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Greenhouse Gases Make Ocean Acidic, Report Says
[Rachel's Introduction: Coral reefs and shellfish are in crisis.]
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By Associated Press
ORONO, Maine -- Greenhouse gases are endangering the world's coral reefs and could also pose threats to lobsters, sea urchins, clams, and scallops far away in the Gulf of Maine, according to a team of global researchers.

The buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion could make the oceans too acidic for coral to survive in less than 50 years, the researchers reported Friday in the journal Science.

The researchers say that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are higher than at any point in the past 740,000 years and rising fast as fossil fuel-dependent countries pump out more greenhouse gases.

"This crisis is on our doorstep, not decades away," said Ove Hoegh- Guldberg, a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia and the report's lead author.

While the report focuses on coral reefs, a University of Maine professor who was part of the team of researchers warned that the same human-driven changes could wreak havoc on marine life in the waters off New England.

"We're not talking about something confined to coral reefs. We're talking about something that is global," said Robert Steneck, UMaine professor of oceanography, marine biology, and marine policy, and a specialist on lobster biology.

It's a double whammy for both coral reefs and other sea creatures, especially hard-shelled marine life, including lobster, Steneck said.

Carbonic acid could affect lobsters' shell thickness and strength and warming waters make them more susceptible to disease, he said.

Richard Wahle, who studies lobsters at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay Harbor, said many researchers believe lobster will migrate toward colder water as ocean temperatures rise.

But ocean acidity and its effects on lobsters and other hard-shelled organisms are important issues that will have to be closely watched, as well, he said.

"Bob's work really shows there are aspects of global climate change other than the rise in temperature" that must be considered, Wahle said of Steneck.

Copyright Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company