A Vision of the Future from Volcanic Vents

A team of researchers at the University of Plymouth have carried out the first in-situ investigation into the possible effects of anthropogenic CO2 on the world’s oceans. Until now, studies into the effect of increasing atmospheric CO2 on the chemistry of the oceans were carried out in aquaria. The results were published online yesterday (8 June) in Nature.

Studying the effect of high concentrations of CO2 around volcanic vents off the coast of Italy, the researchers found that around these vents, coral and microbial organisms with calcite exoskeletons were absent, with a proliferation of algae in their place. As the concentration of CO2 in the ocean increases, the pH decreases; the oceans become more acidic. The increase in acidity removes calcite and aragonite from the marine environment, which are used by many marine organisms to build their shells.

The researchers describe their results as “quite worrying”. The next step is to undertake more work to see how ocean acidification trickles through marine food webs.