Looking back at that bygone warm period in Earth’s history could offer help in forecasting the impact of human-spurred climate change, researchers said of a review of hundreds of studies of ancient climate records published in the journal Science.
Quickly acidifying seawater eats away at coral reefs, which provide habitat for other animals and plants, and makes it harder for mussels and oysters to form protective shells. It can also interfere with small organisms that feed commercial fish like salmon.
The phenomenon has been a top concern of Jane Lubchenco, the head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who has conducted demonstrations about acidification during hearings in the US Congress.
Oceans get more acidic when more carbon gets into the atmosphere. In pre-industrial times, that occurred periodically in natural pulses of carbon that also pushed up global temperatures, the scientists wrote in the study released on 1 March.
Human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, have increased the level of atmospheric carbon to 392 parts per million from about 280 parts per million at the start of the industrial revolution. Carbon dioxide is one of several heat-trapping gases that contribute to global warming.
To figure out what ocean acidification might have done in the prehistoric past, 21 researchers from the the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and the United States reviewed studies of the geological record going back 300 million years, looking for signs of climate disruption.