Oh snap! CO2 causes some ocean critters to build more shells

And some thought ocean acidification would destroy everything.

“We were surprised that some organisms didn’t behave in the way we expected under elevated CO2″…“They were somehow able to manipulate CO2…to build their skeletons.”

From the Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute press release, just in time for Copenhagen.

Conchs

The conch shell at left was exposed to current CO2 levels; the shell at right was exposed to the highest levels in the study. (Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

In a striking finding that raises new questions about carbon dioxide’s (CO2) impact on marine life, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists report that some shell-building creatures—such as crabs, shrimp and lobsters—unexpectedly build more shell when exposed to ocean acidification caused by elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

Because excess CO2 dissolves in the ocean—causing it to “acidify” —researchers have been concerned about the ability of certain organisms to maintain the strength of their shells. Carbon dioxide is known to trigger a process that reduces the abundance of carbonate ions in seawater—one of the primary materials that marine organisms use to build their calcium carbonate shells and skeletons.

The concern is that this process will trigger a weakening and decline in the shells of some species and, in the long term, upset the balance of the ocean ecosystem.

But in a study published in the Dec. 1 issue of Geology, a team led by former WHOI postdoctoral researcher Justin B. Ries found that seven of the 18 shelled species they observed actually built more shell when exposed to varying levels of increased acidification. This may be because the total amount of dissolved inorganic carbon available to them is actually increased when the ocean becomes more acidic, even though the concentration of carbonate ions is decreased.

“Most likely the organisms that responded positively were somehow able to manipulate…dissolved inorganic carbon in the fluid from which they precipitated their skeleton in a way that was beneficial to them,” said Ries, now an assistant professor in marine sciences at the University of North Carolina. “They were somehow able to manipulate CO2…to build their skeletons.”

Organisms displaying such improvement also included calcifying red and green algae, limpets and temperate urchins. Mussels showed no effect.

“We were surprised that some organisms didn’t behave in the way we expected under elevated CO2,” said Anne L. Cohen, a research specialist at WHOI and one of the study’s co-authors. “What was really interesting was that some of the creatures, the coral, the hard clam and the lobster, for example, didn’t seem to care about CO2 until it was higher than about 1,000 parts per million [ppm].” Current atmospheric CO2 levels are about 380 ppm, she said. Above this level, calcification was reduced in the coral and the hard clam, but elevated in the lobster

Urchins

The larger of these two pencil urchins was exposed to currrent CO2 levels; the smaller was exposed to the highest CO2 levels in the study. (Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The “take-home message, “ says Cohen, is that “we can’t assume that elevated CO2 causes a proportionate decline in calcification of all calcifying organisms.” WHOI and the National Science Foundation funded the work.

Conversely, some organisms—such as the soft clam and the oyster—showed a clear reduction in calcification in proportion to increases in CO2. In the most extreme finding, Ries, Cohen and WHOI Associate Scientist Daniel C. McCorkle exposed creatures to CO2 levels more than seven times the current level.

This led to the dissolving of aragonite—the form of calcium carbonate produced by corals and some other marine calcifiers.  Under such exposure, hard and soft clams, conchs, periwinkles, whelks and tropical urchins began to lose their shells.  “If this dissolution process continued for sufficient time, then these organisms could lose their shell completely,” he said, “rendering them defenseless to predators.”

“Some organisms were very sensitive,” Cohen said, “some that have commercial value. But there were a couple that didn’t respond to CO2 or didn’t respond till it was sky-high—about 2,800 parts per million. We’re not expecting to see that [CO2 level] anytime soon.”

The researchers caution, however, that the findings—and acidification’s overall impact—may be more complex than it appears. For example, Cohen says that available food and nutrients such as nitrates, phosphates and iron may help dictate how some organisms respond to carbon dioxide.

“We know that nutrients can be very important,” she says. “We have found that corals for example, that have plenty of food and nutrients can be less sensitive” to CO2. “In this study, the organisms were well fed and we didn’t constrain the nutrient levels.

“I wouldn’t make any predictions based on these results. What these results indicate to us is that the organism response to elevated CO2 levels is complex and we now need to go back and study each organism in detail.”

Ries concurs that any possible ramifications are complex. For example, the crab exhibited improved shell-building capacity, and its prey, the clams, showed reduced calcification.  “This may initially suggest that crabs could benefit from this shift in predator-pray dynamics.  But without shells, clams may not be able to sustain their populations, and this could ultimately impact crabs in a negative way, as well,” Ries said.

In addition, Cohen adds, even though some organisms such as crabs and lobsters appear to benefit under elevated CO2 conditions, the energy they expend in shell building under these conditions “might divert from other important processes such as reproduction or tissue building.”

Since the industrial revolution, Ries noted, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased from 280 to nearly 400 ppm. Climate models predict levels of 600 ppm in 100 years, and 900 ppm in 200 years.

“The oceans absorb much of the CO2 that we release to the atmosphere,” Ries says.  However, he warns that this natural buffer may ultimately come at a great cost.

“It’s hard to predict the overall net effect on benthic marine ecosystems, he says. “In the short term, I would guess that the net effect will be negative. In the long term, ecosystems could re-stabilize at a new steady state.

“The bottom line is that we really need to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere.”

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans’ role in the changing global environment.

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savethesharks

Fascinating.
After all that….THIS conclusion line: “The bottom line is that we really need to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere.”
Circular reasoning at its best!
Chris
Norfolk, VA, USA

Spenc BC

Another startling story that I have not seen posted here.

Bill Illis

Next, we’ll be reading a study that shows increased CO2 is good for plants as well.
CO2 was as high as 7,000 ppm when shell-based organisms evolved so

Spenc BC

Sorry post this instead. Amazing story I am not sure was posted here yet. I could not find it at any rate.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703939404574566124250205490.html

Robert M

Well darn,
What is a wanna be global government supporter supposed to do now? The global warming train has wrecked and now, the ocean acidification fallback that we have been planning is turning out to be easily refuted. We can’t really go back to painting communists as the bogeyman, for he is us. I guess we could turn on all of those convenient idiots environmentalists, but they are not really scary, just gullible. What to do?
/sarc

Alvin

The entire report sounds scientific and informative, positive. Then the final block:
“The oceans absorb much of the CO2 that we release to the atmosphere,” Ries says. However, he warns that this natural buffer may ultimately come at a great cost.
“It’s hard to predict the overall net effect on benthic marine ecosystems, he says. “In the short term, I would guess that the net effect will be negative. In the long term, ecosystems could re-stabilize at a new steady state.
“The bottom line is that we really need to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere.”

[snip] Is that really the bottom line? It seems to me that the bottom line is that the ocean is an ever-changing and adapting set of systems that we don’t fully understand yet. How about that?

a jones

We need more research funds because we didn’t find out very much. Moreover we did not check whether such high levels of CO2 could possibly occur.
CO2 science has a better and comprehensive database on this.
Kindest Regards

jorgekafkazar

“The bottom line is that we really need to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere.”
Uh, non-sequitur, I think. The article fails to mention that organisms can (given enough time) adapt to changing conditions. The rise in CO² is gradual enough that it will take centuries to reach the levels of the experiments. The conclusion is bunk, a sop thrown to the Warmist willies.

David Ball

The bottom line did not make a lot of sense to me. Unless I was promoting a certain idea about a certain theory. Some very convoluted thinking in this one.

Patrick Davis

Love this bit of scaremogering…
“Since the industrial revolution, Ries noted, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased from 280 to nearly 400 ppm. Climate models predict levels of 600 ppm in 100 years, and 900 ppm in 200 years.”
Took more than 150 years to go from ~250 ppm/v to ~385 ppm/v there a good few years to go before we get anywhere near 400 ppm/v.

Aren’t we still at or near a historical low level of atmospheric CO2? If so, shouldn’t continued study focus on the benefits that may accrue as the CO2 levels return to what are closer to historic “norms”?
Just wondering.

Clive

I hate to be a cynic, but the statements are contradictory. Yes? No?
“I wouldn’t make any predictions based on these results. What these results indicate to us is that the organism response to elevated CO2 levels is complex and we now need to go back and study each organism in detail.”
I read this as “we do not know and need more grant money.”
Yet the closing comment was, “The bottom line is that we really need to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere.”
Huh?
Oh well just one more thing to add one more to THE LIST ! ☺
A complete list of things caused by global warming
http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

Pity the subeditor didn’t apply the pyramid principle and start cutting from the bottom up. And stop after the last line.

The cognitive dissonance is frightening;
1) “Despite increased CO2 in seawater leading to acidification, sea life adapts and even builds MORE shells”..
2) “Even though sea life can adapt, we humans must reduce CO2 in the atmosphere”
You know, I’m shaking my head slowly in disbelief as I type this. Is it just me, or does it seem quite, quite obvious that, no matter the changing conditions of air and water on this planet, life has done and always will be able to adapt to the changing conditions? Somebody tell me it’s really not that obvious!
Homo Sapiens have only been on this planet for what, 10’s of thousand of years? Most other species of life have been on this planet for millions if not billions of years. Only human arrogance can come up with the conclusion that we can basically bioengineer a whole planet to suit our needs and what we /think/ are the needs of everything else.
Finally, to paraphrase Ripley from Aliens: “Have IQ’s suddenly dropped since I was away?”

TerryBixler

Striking that some creatures do better with more CO2 and many others are not affected at all. Conclusion we should reduce CO2 to harm the creatures that CO2 helps. Makes sense to me as I am in charge of everything, really. Kind of like “NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.” Good to know that some creatures do better with more CO2, historical record shows the same but nice to know things have not changed.

crosspatch

“It’s hard to predict the overall net effect on benthic marine ecosystems, he says.”
Look at fossils of shelled animals when CO2 levels were much higher.

People that maintain salt water aquariums and who like to grow coral frequently use a Calcium reactor to add nutrients specific for coral growth.
http://www.marinedepot.com/calcium_reactors__index-ap.html
Key inputs are CO2 gas and dead bits of coral. Replicates the natural recycling in the marine environment (which requires CO2 to happen…)

Bill H

What I find interesting is that the Oceans have systems themselves and the animals like us adapt and evolve.
The earth has had times of +4000ppm CO2 and were still here… what occurred that allowed the level to decrease? (Ice Age?) but the balancing act of the earth we do not even have a clue how it all works… Yet we have people who think were all gonna die tomorrow because of CO2…
Climate-Gate has opened up the scientific community to publish those potentially unpopular positions which would disprove AGW alarmist propaganda.

Patrick Davis

“Kevin Cave (19:58:30) :
Finally, to paraphrase Ripley from Aliens: “Have IQ’s suddenly dropped since I was away?”
OT but I prefer the line: “You don’t see them ****ing each other over for a goddamn percentage.”

rbateman

Well, I’ll be dipped in carbonated Climate Change sauce.
You mean to tell me that no matter what the C02 content, some creatures will thrive and some won’t?
That’s almost as crazy as watching some weeds and plants thriving under elevated GCR’s/Deep Solar Minimum while others wilt.
Hey, aren’t we supposed to be the intelligent life-form on this planet?
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, before we got all smart, we adapted.

Evan Jones

The ocean sink has 38,000 BMTC. Anthropogenic CO2 (indirectly) increases this by about 2 BMTC/year. On the face of it, I don’t see an emergency.

Alvin

Bill, remember that the greenies are not overly worried about US dying off. It all about the coral 😉

Mike
Mike

Everything you need to know about ocean acidification:
http://www.seafriends.org.nz/issues/global/acid.htm

Steve Fitzpatrick

How the heck does:
“Wow, now that’s a surprise. It isn’t as bad as we thought, nothing bad happens with shells until over 1,000 PPM, and er, um, that’s at least 200 years away, if ever.”
get spun into:
“We need to reduce CO2 emissions…. now.”
Almost unbelievable. Are they just stupid or do they think everyone else is?
And they wonder why the public doesn’t think global warming is the most serious problem faced by mankind.

D. King

“I would guess that the net effect will be negative. In the long term, ecosystems could re-stabilize at a new steady state.”
net effect will be negative.
re-stabilize at a new steady state.
I think he means on his planet.

Glenn

But but but polar bears are drowning and kittens are exploding!

FHSIV

If I had to guess what is the largest sink of carbon on earth was, I’d have to say carbonate sediments (i.e. limestone and dolomite)! Those pesky liitle marine organisms have been fixing carbonate out of sea water for a couple billion years now.
It has been as few years, but If I remember correctly, the accumulation of biogenic carbonate on the sea floor is at least partly controlled by something called the calcium (or carbonate?) compensation depth (CCD). This is the depth in the ocean below which calcium carbonate is no longer stable due to greater pressures which are unfavorable to the to the crystalline form resulting in dissolution back into the seawater. As the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere increases an equilibrium reaction causes the CCD to deepen. This results in a greater area of the sea floor where calcium carbonate can accumulate and effectively remove CO2 from the system.
How much of this do I have wrong? Can anyone give me a good reference to brush up on this ocean chemistry?
Thanks

crosspatch

“On the face of it, I don’t see an emergency.”
Cap and Trade bill stalled in Australia and the US. Copenhagen possibly in shambles if third world nations walk out. Climategate. There’s an emergency, alright.

Spenc BC

Last post for the night I promise. I am noticing that major news outlets are taking a harder line at least in the papers. Is Mann next?
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/02/universities-take-action-on-climategate/

pat

Hmmmm. Those long unused genetic strands kicked in right on time. And aren’t the dissimilarities between the post and pre fascinating? A more formidable defense. And note the CO2 absorption. It seems like some fauna, like flora, relishes the availability of a bit of CO2.

Doug Ferguson

Interesting findings! Wonder what happens when the increases in CO2 are gradual over many years(sort’a like the real world)? Do you suppose the life forms adapt and evolve? Another finding that shows we’re not as knowledgable about our ecosystems as we think!
Also as it happens, I am reading “Heaven and Earth” by Ian Plimer. In his chapter 6 on water, pps. 331-339 he discusses in depth the whole question of what we know about CO2 and ocean acidity. He mentions(p. 336 – references are extensively sited throughout the arcticle) that in the geological past, higher atmospheric CO2 has made it easier to form shells, so I don’t know why this is such a suprise to this research team. I suggest that they read Ian’s book and look up and read all the research papers he references.
Doug in Mankato, MN

John F. Hultquist

One might hypothesize that insofar as humans are used to a certain amount of O2 in the atmosphere at sea level and that as one goes up in elevation, humans could not breathe and live except near sea level. Some of these folks didn’t get the message:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest_towns_by_country
In this case the analogy does break down because there are mountains sufficiently high that the oxygen just isn’t here. So the question might then be raised whether or not the world-ocean can actually be brought to a state that might supersede the abilities of these organisms to adapt. From reading some of the studies on CO2 Science (http://co2science.org/) it doesn’t seem so.

John

Carbon dioxide is estimated to have been something like 1500 ppm during parts of the Carboniferous Period and, as Bill H pointed out, are estimated to have been even higher during other periods and life in the oceans somehow managed to survive. I guess they need to “get rid of” the Carboniferous Period, too.

KimW

“The bottom line is that we really need to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere.” That conclusion simply does not follow from the body of the paper. it is the obligatory nod to AGW, somewhat like the North Korean press releases that give credit to Kim Il Jong and the indomitable juche spirit. It is frightening to think that such obligations to mention AGW are now considered necessary. Frankly, I welcome our new insect overlords.

Ray

Maybe this is why when CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were 2000 ppm the shellfishes were so huge, back then!

Eric Anderson

There is an interesting presentation available that I thought of when I saw the above post:
Craig Idso’s PowerPoint presentation “Carbon Dioxide, Global Warming and Coral Reefs: Prospects for the Future”
http://www.heartland.org/bin/media/newyork09/PowerPoint/Craig_Idso.ppt

JEM

So in other words if CO2 levels in the oceans go up, the lobsters get tougher and less meaty.
My wife would be mad…

syphax

The caption on the urchin graphic is BACKWARDS. From the press release:
“The larger of these two pencil urchins was exposed to currrent CO2 levels; the smaller was exposed to the highest CO2 levels in the study.”
I am going to assume this was a careless error driven by wishful thinking…
REPLY: Thanks corrected. I’ve moved over the caption from WHOI. Interesting thing though, the left right relationship is reversed in the two pictures they provide. The study suggests that both increases and decreases are seen, and that’s the surprise of it all. But if their own captions are correct, then they only showed one side of the result, and the not the most surprising part.
It may be that they themselves reversed a caption. I’ll inquire. – A

Sunfighter

What!? Animals can adapt too?! Without humans helping?! The environmentalists beg to differ!

Paul Vaughan

“We were surprised […]”
Tip to scientists: Maybe don’t admit your lack of creativity publicly.

Richard

I assume the research was done before Climategate so we should be interpreting the last line as “lotsa and lotsa money out there for warming climate research and since we like grant money, we need to stay on the warmists’ good side by toeing the party line.”

syphax

When discussing high paleo CO2 levels, it’s worth remembering that the ocean’s alkalinity was also much higher, as well.

D. King

John (20:20:52) :
I guess they need to “get rid of” the Carboniferous Period, too.
Our reality is shrinking.

Carlos

That’s almost as crazy as watching some weeds and plants thriving under elevated GCR’s/Deep Solar Minimum while others wilt.
You mean, like, tomatoes? Just sayin. I want my global warming back, please.

Leon Brozyna

No, no, no — they’ve got it all wrong. They should have admitted that there were too many unwarranted assumptions made of the effects on sea life as a result of ocean neutralization. They should then have gone on to state that the bottom line is that the organism response to elevated CO2 levels is complex, we don’t have anywhere near the full understanding needed, and we now need to go back and study each organism in detail. That should set them up for a steady stream of grant monies that might otherwise dry up as a result of Climategate.

Carlos

it’s worth remembering that the ocean’s alkalinity was also much higher, as well.
Link?

Eggsuckindog

I don’t understand either – everything loves it up to 1000ppm, then some see issues but we’re at 380 and need to reduce -[snip]

Spenc BC