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Coral Reefs Could Be Decimated by 2100

Science

Nearly every coral reef could be dying by 2100 if current carbon dioxide emission trends continue, according to a new review of major climate models from around the world. The only way to maintain the current chemical environment in which reefs now live, the study suggests, would be to deeply cut emissions as soon as possible. It may even become necessary to actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, say with massive tree-planting efforts or machines.

Coral Reefs Could Be Decimated by 2100

by Eli Kintisch
Science magazine
20 December 2012

Nearly every coral reef could be dying by 2100 if current carbon dioxide emission trends continue, according to a new review of major climate models from around the world. The only way to maintain the current chemical environment in which reefs now live, the study suggests, would be to deeply cut emissions as soon as possible. It may even become necessary to actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, say with massive tree-planting efforts or machines.

The world's open-ocean reefs are already under attack by the combined stresses of acidifying and warming water, overfishing, and coastal pollution. Carbon emissions have already lowered the pH of the ocean a full 0.1 unit, which has harmed reefs and hindered bivalves' ability to grow. The historical record of previous mass extinctions suggests that acidified seas were accompanied by widespread die-offs but not total extinction.

To study how the world's slowly souring seas would affect reefs in the future, scientists with the Carnegie Institution for Science in Palo Alto, California, analyzed the results of computer simulations performed by 13 teams around the world. The models include simulations of how ocean chemistry would interact with an atmosphere with higher carbon dioxide levels in the future. This so-called "active biogeochemistry" is a new feature that is mostly absent in the previous generation of global climate models.

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