Rising ocean acidity threatens West Coast ecosystems

Humanity’s use of fossil fuels sends 35 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That has already begun to change the fundamental chemistry of the world’s oceans, steadily making them more acidic.

Now, a new high resolution computer model reveals that over the next 4 decades, rising ocean acidity will likely have profound impacts on waters off the West Coast of the United States, home to one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems and most important commercial fisheries.

These impacts have the potential to upend the entire marine ecosystem and affect millions of people dependent upon it for food and jobs.

George Waldbusser, an Oregon State University ocean ecologist and biogeochemist currently working under Oregon Sea Grant funding to study the effects of acidification on oysters and other commercially important bivalves, says it’s not clear precisely how rising acidity will affect different organisms. However, he adds, the changes will likely be broad-based. “It shows us that the windows of opportunity for organisms to succeed get smaller and smaller. It will probably have important effects on fisheries, food supply, and general ocean ecology.”

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