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Scientists Pinpoint How Corals Become Weakened By Ocean Acidification

New research sheds light on how ocean acidification is weakening coral skeletons.

The rising acidity of the oceans threatens coral reefs by making it harder for corals to build their skeletons. A new study identifies the details of how ocean acidification affects coral skeletons, allowing scientists to predict more precisely where corals will be more vulnerable.

Corals grow their skeletons upward toward sunlight and also thicken them to reinforce them.

The new research, led by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), shows that ocean acidification particularly impedes the thickening process—decreasing the skeletons’ density and leaving them more vulnerable to breaking. The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our research incorporates the nuances of coral skeletal growth, enabling more precise projections of how, where, and by how much, ocean acidification will affect tropical reef-building corals,” said Nathaniel Mollica, who is lead author of the study and a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography. The research team also included Weifu Guo, Anne Cohen, and Andrew Solow (WHOI), Kuo-Fang Huang (Academia Sinica in Taiwan), and Hannah Donald and Gavin Foster (University of Southampton in England).

Photo: Milos Prelevic/Unsplash

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