Seashells Provide More Evidence of Ocean Acidification

This weekend I saw an article from Reuters about a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience showing more evidence of the impact of ocean acidification on marine animals. Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among others, sampled surface waters from around Antarctica and found that it was corrosive enough to dissolve the shells of a species of sea snails:

[A]lthough the snails did not necessarily die, it increased their vulnerability to predators and infection which could affect other parts of the food chain.

“The corrosive properties of the water caused shells of live animals to be severely dissolved and this demonstrates how vulnerable pteropods are,” said lead author Nina Bednaršek, from the NOAA.

“Ocean acidification, resulting from the addition of human-induced carbon dioxide, contributed to this dissolution.”

This brings to mind my conversation last year with Cathy Pfister about her work studying pH levels in the coastal waters around Tatoosh Island in Washington state. She and her colleagues Timothy Wooton and Sophie McCoy used California mussel shells to measure historical pH levels in the water, and found that they were dropping an order of magnitude faster than expected in the last decade, making the water more acidic. (Their work on Tatoosh Island was also profiled in the New York Times in October) Now Pfister and her team are studying how lower pH levels affect shelled organisms, but like the sea snails in the Nature Geoscience study, they’ve already noticed that newer mussel shells from that area are much thinner than ancient ones donated by the local Native American tribe. If the shells can tell us anything, it’s that the ocean is becoming a harder place to live.

About Matt Wood (491 Articles)
Matt Wood is a senior science writer for the University of Chicago Medicine and editor of the Science Life blog.
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