Member Highlight: Stanford Researchers Uncover Startling Insights Into How Human-Generated Carbon Dioxide Could Reshape Oceans

2018-12-17T15:36:13+00:00 December 17, 2018|
(Credit: Pasquale Vassallo / Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn)

(Credit: Pasquale Vassallo / Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn)

Volcanic carbon dioxide vents off the coast of Italy are rapidly acidifying nearby waters. This natural laboratory provides a crystal ball-view into potential future marine biodiversity impacts around the world.

(From Stanford University/ By Nicole Kravec) — Something peculiar is happening in the azure waters off the rocky cliffs of Ischia, Italy. There, streams of gas-filled volcanic bubbles rising up to the surface are radically changing life around them by making seawater acidic. Stanford researchers studying species living near these gassy vents have learned what it takes to survive in acidic waters, providing a glimpse of what future oceans might look like as they grow more acidic.

Their findings, published December 11 in Nature Communications, suggest that ocean acidification driven by human-caused carbon dioxide emissions could have a larger impact than previously thought.

“When an organism’s environment becomes more acidic, it can dramatically impact not only that species, but the overall ecosystem’s resilience, function and stability,” said Stanford marine biologist Fiorenza Micheli, lead author on the paper. “These transformations ultimately impact people, especially our food chains.”

A natural laboratory

Most ocean acidification studies to date have taken place in laboratories, making it impossible to assess how whole ecosystems comprised of multiple, interacting species would be affected. The real-life laboratory provided researchers an opportunity to examine dozens of species, from sea urchins to marine snails, that live in areas of different acidity along Ischia’s volcanic carbon dioxide vents. In addition to studying how species diversity changed with acidification, they analyzed…

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