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Deep-sea corals in danger : study finds reefs could turn brittle from global war

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  • Mike Neuman
    Deep-sea corals in danger Study finds reefs could turn brittle from global warming Monday, April 3, 2006 Even the coldest, darkest depths of the world s oceans
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2006
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      Deep-sea corals in danger
      Study finds reefs could turn brittle from global warming

      Monday, April 3, 2006

      Even the coldest, darkest depths of the world's oceans can't escape
      the harmful effects of global warming -- and that includes deep-sea
      corals, local researchers have found.

      The scientists are connecting the ocean's increasing absorption of
      carbon dioxide -- a greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels --
      with changes in the chemistry of seawater. More carbon dioxide leads
      to a reduced supply of calcium compounds used by corals and other
      marine creatures to build their shells.

      That could result in osteoporosislike conditions that cause stony
      coral reefs to become brittle. It could slow their growth and even
      limit the areas where the corals can grow.

      Corals play an important role in the marine web of life, providing
      food and shelter for fish and invertebrates. Researchers have found
      sea sponges that contain anti-cancer agents among the corals as well.

      "A lot of these corals will be in conditions that will be
      detrimental," said John Guinotte, lead author of the research paper
      published today in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and
      the Environment.

      Guinotte, a marine scientist at the Bellevue-based Marine
      Conservation Biology Institute, found that the majority of deep,
      rocky corals are found in areas "supersaturated" with calcium-
      carbonate compounds used to build their shells.

      By the end of this century, as more carbon dioxide is released and
      the oceans become more acidic, only 30 percent of those waters are
      expected to still be supersaturated.

      "Corals have been around for millions of years ... but corals as we
      know them today, the reefs we know today, have no experience with
      these conditions," Guinotte said in an interview.

      The study pulled together earlier research on the location of the
      corals and current and future ocean conditions.

      It was written by six researchers from the United States, Australia,
      Germany and France.

      Many of the deep-sea coral reefs were undiscovered until the past 15
      to 25 years. They are mostly in the North Atlantic, though smaller
      clumps form in the Pacific Ocean, including the Washington coast.

      Other changes associated with global warming -- increased ocean
      temperatures and changes in water circulation patterns and saltiness -
      - could also harm the remote corals.

      "The ocean is this frontier; they just discovered these things not
      long ago," said Joanie Kleypas, an oceanographer with the National
      Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "This stuff is kind
      of scary."

      Scientists last week reported that record hot water and disease have
      triggered the largest loss of Caribbean corals ever seen.

      About one-third of the tropical corals officially being monitored
      have recently died, according to preliminary estimates from Puerto
      Rico and the Virgin Islands -- some of them centuries old.

      A research team including scientists from the National Oceanic and
      Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington returned
      Thursday from a trip stretching from Antarctica to Alaska documenting
      changing ocean conditions.

      According to the team's preliminary results, the ocean has became
      noticeably acidic over the past 15 years, threatening the health of
      tiny snails and plants at the base of the food chain.

      "Oceans are changing dramatically with climate change," said Philip
      Mote of the UW's Climate Impacts Group. "Effectively, we're just
      finding more and more ways to interfere with the climate system."


      This report contains information from The Associated Press. P-I
      reporter Lisa Stiffler can be reached at 206-448-8042 or

      Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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