Climate change is affecting oceans globally, but many believe coral reefs are the world’s “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to irreversible damage resulting from climate impacts.
To understand the mechanisms of climate change, it is important to look at the history of carbon emissions. In the 1880s, the industrial revolution catalyzed the use of carbon-based fuel and helped advance human civilization in ways very few could imagine. However, one downside to this advancement was the exponential release and trapping of carbon in our atmosphere, usually in the form of carbon dioxide. For the past 140 years, this accumulation has resulted in substantial changes to the Earth’s climate.
The Earth’s ocean is a net carbon sink, meaning it absorbs more carbon than it releases. Within the ocean, there are many chemical changes that can occur as the amount of carbon dioxide is dissolved into the water. One of the most common changes is a decrease in the ocean’s pH as it becomes more acidic as more CO2 is absorbed, a term commonly referred to as ocean acidification (OA). This decrease in pH has led to numerous physiological problems in marine animals, particularly calcifying organisms like those found on coral reefs.