Coral reefs will transition to net dissolving before end of century

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Science  23 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 908-911
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao1118

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Acid reef-flux

The uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is reducing the pH of the oceans. Ocean acidification means that calcium carbonate—the material with which coral reefs are built—will be more difficult for organisms to generate and will dissolve more quickly. Eyre et al. report that some reefs are already experiencing net sediment dissolution. Worryingly, the rates of loss will increase as ocean acidification intensifies.

Science, this issue p. 908


Ocean acidification refers to the lowering of the ocean’s pH due to the uptake of anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere. Coral reef calcification is expected to decrease as the oceans become more acidic. Dissolving calcium carbonate (CaCO3) sands could greatly exacerbate reef loss associated with reduced calcification but is presently poorly constrained. Here we show that CaCO3 dissolution in reef sediments across five globally distributed sites is negatively correlated with the aragonite saturation state (Ωar) of overlying seawater and that CaCO3 sediment dissolution is 10-fold more sensitive to ocean acidification than coral calcification. Consequently, reef sediments globally will transition from net precipitation to net dissolution when seawater Ωar reaches 2.92 ± 0.16 (expected circa 2050 CE). Notably, some reefs are already experiencing net sediment dissolution.

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