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diver and fish by coral reef

A healthy coral reef in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands

Ocean acidification, or the lowered pH level and aragonite saturation that accompanies increased absorption of carbon dioxide in seawater, has been linked to declining coral growth.

Studies of the process have produced conflicting conclusions, however.

After revisiting the data, Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology Researcher Paul Jokiel has developed an explanation he calls proton flux hypothesis.

Calcification of coral skeletons requires transfer of hydrogen ions from the water column into the coral tissue, he explains. Ocean acidification disrupts the transfer, impairing corals’ ability to create their argonite skeleton. Coral reefs suffer because the weakened coral skeletons are susceptible to breakage.

“The model is a radical departure from previous thought, but is consistent with existing observations and warrants testing in future studies,” Jokiel writes in the July issue of Bulletin of Marine Science.

Read the news release or access the journal article.

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