Ocean Acidity Is Dissolving Shells Of Tiny Snails Off U.S. West Coast
Ocean acidity is dissolving shells of tiny snails off U.S. West Coast
A NOAA-led research team has found the first evidence that acidity of continental shelf waters off the West Coast is dissolving the shells of tiny free-swimming marine snails, called pteropods, which provide food for pink salmon, mackerel and herring, according to a new paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Researchers estimate that the percentage of pteropods in this region with dissolving shells due to ocean acidification has doubled in the nearshore habitat since the pre-industrial era and is on track to triple by 2050 when coastal waters become 70 percent more corrosive than in the pre-industrial era due to human-caused ocean acidification.
The new research documents the movement of corrosive waters onto the continental shelf from April to September during the upwelling season, when winds bring water rich in carbon dioxide up from depths of about 400-600 feet to the surface and onto the continental shelf.
"Our findings are the first evidence that a large fraction of the West Coast pteropod population is being affected by ocean acidification," said Nina Bednarsek, Ph.D., of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, the lead author of the paper. "Dissolving coastal pteropod shells point to the need to study how acidification may be affecting the larger marine ecosystem. These nearshore waters provide essential habitat to a great diversity of marine species, including many economically important fish that support coastal economies and provide us with food."
The term "ocean acidification" describes the process of ocean water becoming corrosive as a result of absorbing nearly a third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from human sources. This change in ocean chemistry is affecting marine life, particularly organisms with calcium carbonate skeletons or shells, such as corals, oysters, mussels, and small creatures in the early stages of the food chain such as pteropods. The pteropod is a free-swimming snail found in oceans around the world that grows to a size of about one-eighth to one-half inch.
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When we connect the dots of the food chain and see where it ends we understand just how important it is to relay information about ocean acidification. I don't only think of this as a food chain but also as the web of life. When we deplete, pollute and acidify our oceans to the point where more rungs on the food chain ladder are affected- so will we also be effected as part of that web. Without our oceans we don't have marine life and we don't have humans.
Do you ever wonder what it is like to be a snail and to have your shell dissolve? How about acid dissolving your own skin? How do you think it feels for fish swimming in these waters with increased acidity and in many cases depleted oxygen? Do you ever connect the dots to ponder the domino effect of placing your key in your SUV ignition and starting it? If you don't I think perhaps it is time to do so. Fossil fuel burning, deforestation, energy generation, land use all tied to our rate of resource consumption is now having a detrimental effect on the ecosystems that support all life.
Of course, in our busy distracted lives we rarely have time to contemplate our place in this world. However, when you consider the enormous amount of species that share this planet with us and that our actions our now endangering their very lives and in turn our own how can you not care about that? It really is all connected.
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