Paul Rogers, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
In a troubling new discovery, scientists studying ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington have found the first evidence that increasing acidity in the ocean is dissolving the shells of a key species of tiny sea creature at the base of the food chain.
The animals, a type of free-floating marine snail known as pteropods, are an important food source for salmon, herring, mackerel and other fish in the Pacific Ocean. Those fish are eaten not only by millions of people every year, but also by a wide variety of other sea creatures, from whales to dolphins to sea lions.
If the trend continues, climate change scientists say, it will imperil the ocean environment.
"These are alarm bells," said Nina Bednarsek, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle who helped lead the research. "This study makes us understand that we have made an impact on the ocean environment to the extent where we can actually see the shells dissolving right now."
Scientists from NOAA and Oregon State University found that in waters near the West Coast shoreline, 53 percent of the tiny floating snails had shells that were severely dissolving — double the estimate from 200 years ago.