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USGS Hosts Scientific Workshop on the Impact of Carbon Dioxide on Marine Life

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Peter Betzer (University of South Florida), Joanie Kleypas (NCAR), Chris Langdon (University of Miami), Vicky Fabry (California State University), Richard Feely (NOAA), Lisa Robbins (USGS), and Chris Sabine (NOAA).
Above: Panelists at the CO2 workshop press conference included scientists from governmental agencies and academic institutions (left to right): Peter Betzer (University of South Florida), Joanie Kleypas (NCAR), Chris Langdon (University of Miami), Vicky Fabry (California State University), Richard Feely (NOAA), Lisa Robbins (USGS), and Chris Sabine (NOAA).

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), hosted a 3-day workshop, from April 18 to 20, for more than 40 scientists at the USGS St. Petersburg Science Center in St. Petersburg, FL. The workshop on “Impacts of Increasing Atmospheric CO2 on Coral Reefs and Other Marine Calcifiers” brought together international experts to compare their research and propose courses of action to deal with the impacts of rising levels of CO2. The scientists examined the technology needed to monitor the CO2 system in seawater and explored the best methods for sharing their knowledge and research findings. They also evaluated ways to identify future research needs that will address the observations of increased CO2 levels in the world’s oceans.

The world’s oceans have absorbed about 30 percent of the CO2 released by human activity in the past several decades, thus slowing global warming. This removal of CO2 from the atmosphere has come at a cost, however, to coral reefs and other marine life, according to Richard Feely, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “Rising concentrations of CO2 will significantly impact our oceans by drastically altering their pH balance,” explained Feely, coauthor of a study on CO2 and the oceans published last year in the journal Science (v. 305, no. 5628, July 16, 2004).

Researchers say the lower pH of ocean water means that organisms that secrete calcium carbonate skeletons, such as corals and many microscopic plankton in the open ocean, will secrete calcium carbonate at much slower rates. “Increasing atmospheric CO2 is damaging to coral reefs in two ways,” says NCAR scientist Joanie Kleypas. “Coral bleaching is a visible consequence of warmer waters. While the effects of lower-pH ocean water on coral growth are not as visible [as bleaching], they are probably just as important to the coral-reef ecosystem.” Photographs of malformed coccolithophorids taken by Ulf Riebesell of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany, illustrated how skeletal structures can be affected by changes in pH. Detrimental effects on the health of primary and secondary producers, a critical food source in the open ocean, can have broad implications for the health of ocean food webs.

The workshop was followed by a press conference on April 20, with a panel of participating scientists led by Richard Feely sharing the findings and results of the workshop. A summary of the findings will be released by NCAR in the fall.

Related Web Sites
Ocean CO2 may 'harm marine life'
BBC News
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
U.S. Department of Commerce
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Journal Science
American Association for the Advancement of Science
St. Petersburg Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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in this issue: Fieldwork cover story:
Coral Coring in Flower Garden Banks NMS

Research Brief Tsunami Warning Startles U.S. West Coast

Outreach Lessons and Questions from the Indian Ocean Tsunami

Summer Internship at the USGS National Wetlands Research Center

New Web Site About Indian Ocean Tsunami

Public Forum About Coral Degradation

Hurricanes: Predicting Their Path of Destruction

Meetings Impact of Carbon Dioxide on Marine Life

Awards William R. Normark Receives Francis P. Shepard Medal

Publications July Publications List

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