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UCSD Scientists Warn Of Ocean Acidification in Cancún

Growing Threat To Health Of World’s Oceans

Audio

Aired 12/8/10

UCSD researchers say action is needed now to keep carbon dioxide from making the world's oceans more acidic. The scientists are highlighting the problem at a climate summit in Cancún, Mexico.

UCSD researchers say action is needed now to keep carbon dioxide from making the world's oceans more acidic. The scientists are highlighting the problem at a climate summit in Cancún, Mexico.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers say more acid in the ocean depletes calcium carbonate which is needed for corals, snails and other marine life to make their shells.

The director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography is Tony Haymet.

He said reducing the threat of ocean acidification means reducing carbon emissions that come from natural gas, oil and goal - the same gases linked to climate change.

"The only way we know how to do it now is to stop putting the CO2 in the atmosphere," said Haymet in a phone interview from Cancún. "The minute it goes into the atmosphere it's rapidly distributed around the world; and since 71 percent of the world's surface is covered with ocean, it dissolves into the ocean."

Haymet said sea urchins off San Diego's coast is one species that could be harmed by ocean acidification.

While not popular here, the urchins are exported as delicacies to Asia.

"Many organisms in the ocean make their shells out of calcium carbonate," explained Haymet. "And so if you change the ocean chemistry where carbonate is hard to find, then you make it hard for them to make their shells."

Haymet said which commercial fishery or marine ecosystem will be affected first by ocean acidification requires more scientific study.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist David Keeling is credited with pioneering the measurement of ocean acidification more than 20 years ago.

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