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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jul 29;105(30):10450-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0712167105. Epub 2008 Jul 28.

Poorly cemented coral reefs of the eastern tropical Pacific: possible insights into reef development in a high-CO2 world.

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Cooperative Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Studies, Rosenstiel School, Marine Biology and Fisheries, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149, USA.


Ocean acidification describes the progressive, global reduction in seawater pH that is currently underway because of the accelerating oceanic uptake of atmospheric CO(2). Acidification is expected to reduce coral reef calcification and increase reef dissolution. Inorganic cementation in reefs describes the precipitation of CaCO(3) that acts to bind framework components and occlude porosity. Little is known about the effects of ocean acidification on reef cementation and whether changes in cementation rates will affect reef resistance to erosion. Coral reefs of the eastern tropical Pacific (ETP) are poorly developed and subject to rapid bioerosion. Upwelling processes mix cool, subthermocline waters with elevated pCO(2) (the partial pressure of CO(2)) and nutrients into the surface layers throughout the ETP. Concerns about ocean acidification have led to the suggestion that this region of naturally low pH waters may serve as a model of coral reef development in a high-CO(2) world. We analyzed seawater chemistry and reef framework samples from multiple reef sites in the ETP and found that a low carbonate saturation state (Omega) and trace abundances of cement are characteristic of these reefs. These low cement abundances may be a factor in the high bioerosion rates previously reported for ETP reefs, although elevated nutrients in upwelled waters may also be limiting cementation and/or stimulating bioerosion. ETP reefs represent a real-world example of coral reef growth in low-Omega waters that provide insights into how the biological-geological interface of coral reef ecosystems will change in a high-CO(2) world.

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