December 1, 2007
In selecting its “100 Top Science Stories of 2007,” the editors of Discover magazine recognized WHOI marine chemist Scott Doney and his colleagues for research on the effect of acid rain in coastal waters. The paper “Impact of anthropogenic atmospheric nitrogen and sulfur deposition on ocean acidification and the inorganic carbon system”published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Doney and six colleagues from four institutionswas listed as top story #23 in Discover’s year-end roundup. In their September 2007 journal article, Doney et al noted that the release of sulfur and nitrogen into the atmosphere by power plants and agricultural activities is altering the chemistry of coastal surface waters, making seawater more acidic. The strongest effects are downwind of major pollution regions in eastern North America, western Europe, and southern and southeast Asia. Ocean “acidification” occurs when chemical compounds such as carbon dioxide, sulfur, or nitrogen mix with seawater, a process which lowers the pH and reduces the storage of carbon. It hampers the ability of marine organismssuch as sea urchins, corals, and certain types of planktonto harness calcium carbonate for making hard outer shells or “exoskeletons.” These organisms provide essential food and habitat to other species, so their demise could affect entire ocean ecosystems.