Changes in CaCO3 dissolution due to ocean acidification are potentially more important than changes in calcification to the future accretion and survival of coral reef ecosystems. As most CaCO3 in coral reefs is stored in old permeable sediments, increasing sediment dissolution due to ocean acidification will result in reef loss even if calcification remains unchanged. Previous studies indicate that CaCO3 dissolution could be more sensitive to ocean acidification than calcification by reef organisms. Observed changes in net ecosystem calcification owing to ocean acidification could therefore be due mainly to increased dissolution rather than decreased calcification. In addition, biologically mediated calcification could potentially adapt, at least partially, to future ocean acidification, while dissolution, which is mostly a geochemical response to changes in seawater chemistry, will not adapt. Here, we review the current knowledge of shallow-water CaCO3 dissolution and demonstrate that dissolution in the context of ocean acidification has been largely overlooked compared with calcification.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $4.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Hoegh-Guldberg, O. Climate change, coral bleaching and the future of the world's coral reefs. Mar. Freshwat. Res. 50, 839–866 (1999).
Harrison, P. & Booth, D. in Marine Ecology Vol. 1 (eds Connell, S. D. & Gillanders, B. M.) Ch. 13, 316–377 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007).
Fabry, V. J., Seibel, B. A., Feely, R. A. & Orr, J. C. Impacts of ocean acidification on marine fauna and ecosystem processes. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 65, 414–432 (2008).
Gattuso, J-P., Allemand, D. & Frankignoulle, M. Photosynthesis and calcification at cellular, organismal and community levels in coral reefs: a review on interactions and control by carbonate chemistry. Am. Zool. 39, 160–183 (1999).
Langdon, C. & Atkinson, M. J. Effect of elevated pCO2 on photosynthesis and calcification of corals and interactions with seasonal change in temperature/irradiance and nutrient enrichment. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 110, 1–16 (2005).
Dove, S. G. et al. Future reef decalcification under a business-as-usual CO2 emission scenario. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 15342–15347 (2013).
Harney, J. N. III & Fletcher, C. H. A budget of carbonate framework and sediment production, Kailua Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. J. Sediment. Res. 73, 856–868 (2003).
Mallela, J. & Perry, C. T. Calcium carbonate budgets for two coral reefs affected by different terrestrial runoff regimes, Rio Bueno, Jamaica. Coral Reefs 26, 129–145 (2007).
Schneider, K. & Erez, J. The effect of carbonate chemistry on calcification and photosynthesis in the hermatypic coral Acropora eurystoma. Limnol. Oceanogr. 51, 1284–1293 (2006).
Pandolfi, J. M., Connolly, S. R., Marshall, D. J. & Cohen, A. L. Projecting coral reef futures under global warming and ocean acidification. Science 333, 418–422 (2011).
Holcomb, M. et al. Coral calcifying fluid pH dictates response to ocean acidification. Sci. Rep. 4, 5207 (2014).
Hoegh-Guldberg, O. Coral reef sustainability through adaptation: Glimmer of hope or persistent mirage? Curr. Opin. Environ. Sust. 7, 127–133 (2014).
Walter, L. M. & Morse, J. W. Reactive surface area of skeletal carbonates during dissolution: effect of grain size. J. Sediment. Res. 54, 1081–1090 (1984).
Walter, L. M. & Morse, J. W. The dissolution kinetics of shallow marine carbonates in seawater: a laboratory study. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 49, 1503–1513 (1985). A comprehensive study of dissolution kinetics of biogenic carbonate substrates in sea water showing that microarchitecture can sometimes override thermodynamic mineral stability as a control of dissolution rates.
Sanders, D. Syndepositional dissolution of calcium carbonate in neritic carbonate environments: geological recognition, processes, potential significance. J. Afr. Earth Sci. 36, 99–134 (2003).
Gattuso, J., Frankignoulle, M. & Wollast, R. Carbon and carbonate metabolism in coastal aquatic ecosystems. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 29, 405–434 (1998).
Smith, B. T., Frankel, E. & Jell, J. S. in Reefs and Carbonate Platforms in the Pacific and Indian Oceans 279–294 (Blackwell Publishing, 2009).
Hubbard, D. K., Burke, R. B. & Gill, I. P. Where's the reef: the role of framework in the Holocene. Carbonate. Evaporite. 13, 3–9 (1998).
Davies, P. & Kinsey, D. Holocene reef growth — One Tree Island, Great Barrier Reef. Mar. Geol. 24, M1–M11 (1977).
Kinsey, D. & Davies, P. Carbon Turnover, Calcification and Growth in Coral Reefs (Elsevier, 1979).
Marshall, J. F. & Davies, P. J. Internal structure and Holocene evolution of One Tree Reef, southern Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 1, 21–28 (1982).
Montaggioni, L. F. History of Indo-Pacific coral reef systems since the last glaciation: Development patterns and controlling factors. Earth Sci. Rev. 71, 1–75 (2005).
Harney, J. N., Grossman, E. E., Richmond, B. M. & Fletcher, C. H. III Age and composition of carbonate shoreface sediments, Kailua Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. Coral Reefs 19, 141–154 (2000).
Yamano, H., Miyajima, T. & Koike, I. Importance of foraminifera for the formation and maintenance of a coral sand cay: Green Island, Australia. Coral Reefs 19, 51–58 (2000).
Ryan, D. A., Opdyke, B. N. & Jell, J. S. Holocene sediments of Wistari Reef: Towards a global quantification of coral reef related neritic sedimentation in the Holocene. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 175, 173–184 (2001).
Gourlay, M. in Proc. 6th Int. Coral Reef Symp. (eds Choat, J. H. et al.) 491–496 (1998).
Kennedy, E. V. et al. Avoiding coral reef functional collapse requires local and global action. Curr. Biol. 23, 1–7 (2013).
Hubbard, D. K., Miller, A. I. & Scaturo, D. Production and cycling of calcium carbonate in a shelf-edge reef system (St. Croix, US Virgin Islands); Applications to the nature of reef systems in the fossil record. J. Sediment. Res. 60, 335–360 (1990).
Andersson, A. J. & Gledhill, D. Ocean acidification and coral reefs: effects on breakdown, dissolution, and net ecosystem calcification. Annu. Rev. Mar. Sci. 5, 321–348 (2013).
Cyronak, T., Santos, I. R. & Eyre, B. D. Permeable coral reef sediment dissolution driven by elevated pCO2 and pore water advection. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 4876–4881 (2013). First study to measure CaCO 3 sediment dissolution in situ over a diel cycle with advective flow and increased p CO 2 (ocean acidification scenarios).
Milliman, J. D. Production and accumulation of calcium carbonate in the ocean: Budget of a nonsteady state. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 7, 927–957 (1993).
Perry, C. T. et al. Implications of reef ecosystem change for the stability and maintenance of coral reef islands. Glob. Change Biol. 17, 3679–3696 (2011).
Nicholls, R. J. & Cazenave, A. Sea-level rise and its impact on coastal zones. Science 329, 1517–1520 (2010).
Woodroffe, C. D. Reef-island topography and the vulnerability of atolls to sea-level rise. Glob. Planet. Change 62, 77–96 (2008).
Smith, S. & Kinsey, D. Calcium carbonate production, coral reef growth, and sea level change. Science 194, 937–939 (1976).
Grigg, R. Holocene coral reef accretion in Hawaii: a function of wave exposure and sea level history. Coral Reefs 17, 263–272 (1998).
Yates, K. K. & Halley, R. B. Diurnal variation in rates of calcification and carbonate sediment dissolution in Florida Bay. Estuar. Coast. 29, 24–39 (2006).
Andersson, A. J. et al. Net loss of CaCO3 from a subtropical calcifying community due to seawater acidification: mesocosm-scale experimental evidence. Biogeosciences 6, 1811–1823 (2009).
Yates, K. & Halley, R. CO2−3 concentration and pCO2 thresholds for calcification and dissolution on the Molokai reef flat, Hawaii. Biogeosci. Discuss. 3, 123–154 (2006).
Silverman, J., Lazar, B. & Erez, J. Effect of aragonite saturation, temperature, and nutrients on the community calcification rate of a coral reef. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 112, C05004 (2007).
Barnes, D. & Devereux, M. Productivity and calcification on a coral reef: A survey using pH and oxygen electrode techniques. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 79, 213–231 (1984).
Shamberger, K. E. F. et al. Calcification and organic production on a Hawaiian coral reef. Mar. Chem. 127, 64–75 (2011).
Morse, J. W., Zullig, J. J., Bernstein, L. D., Millero, F. J. & Milne, P. J. Chemistry of calcium carbonate-rich shallow water sediments in the Bahamas. Am. J. Sci. 285, 147–185 (1985).
Cyronak, T., Santos, I. R., McMahon, A. & Eyre, B. D. Carbon cycling hysteresis in permeable carbonate sands over a diel cycle: implications for ocean acidification. Limnol. Oceanogr. 58, 131–143 (2013).
Langdon, C. et al. Effect of elevated CO2 on the community metabolism of an experimental coral reef. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 17, 1011 (2003).
Morse, J. W. & Arvidson, R. S. The dissolution kinetics of major sedimentary carbonate minerals. Earth Sci. Rev. 58, 51–84 (2002). Comprehensive review focused on the chemical kinetics controlling the rates of reaction between sedimentary carbonate minerals and solutions.
Burdige, D. J. & Zimmerman, R. C. Impact of sea grass density on carbonate dissolution in Bahamian sediments. Limnol. Oceanogr. 47, 1751–1763 (2002).
Glynn, P. W. in Life and Death of Coral Reefs (ed. Birkeland, C.) 68–95 (Chapman Hall, 1997). Comprehensive review of coral reef bioerosion.
Reyes-Nivia, C., Diaz-Pulido, G., Kline, D., Guldberg, O-H. & Dove, S. Ocean acidification and warming scenarios increase microbioerosion of coral skeletons. Glob. Change Biol. 19, 1919–1929 (2013).
Orr, J. C. et al. Anthropogenic ocean acidification over the twenty-first century and its impact on calcifying organisms. Nature 437, 681–686 (2005).
Land, L. S. Diagenesis of skeletal carbonates. J. Sediment. Res. 37, 914–930 (1967).
Nash, M. C. et al. Dolomite-rich coralline algae in reefs resist dissolution in acidified conditions. Nature Clim. Change 3, 268–272 (2013).
Andersson, A. J., MacKenzie, F. T. & Lerman, A. Coastal ocean and carbonate systems in the high CO2 world of the Anthropocene. Am. J. Sci. 305, 875–918 (2005). Dissolution of Mg-calcite mineral phases as the 'first responders' to ocean acidification.
Morse, J. W., Andersson, A. J. & Mackenzie, F. T. Initial responses of carbonate-rich shelf sediments to rising atmospheric pCO2 and “ocean acidification”: role of high Mg-calcites. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 70, 5814–5830 (2006).
Green, M. & Aller, R. C. Early diagenesis of calcium carbonate in Long Island Sound sediments: benthic fluxes of Ca2+ and minor elements during seasonal periods of net dissolution. J. Mar. Res. 59, 769–794 (2001).
Tribble, G. W., Sansone, F. J. & Smith, S. V. Stoichiometric modeling of carbon diagenesis within a coral reef framework. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 54, 2439–2449 (1990). Extensive study of biogeochemical processes within a reef framework showing that aerobic and anaerobic oxidation of organic matter dominates early diagenesis in a reef framework.
Morse, J. W. & Mackenzie, F. T. Geochemistry of Sedimentary Carbonates (Elsevier Science and Technology, 1990). Comprehensive book addressing all aspects of sedimentary carbonate geochemistry.
Ku, T. C. W., Walter, L. M., Coleman, M. L., Blake, R. E. & Martini, A. M. Coupling between sulfur recycling and syndepositional carbonate dissolution: evidence from oxygen and sulfur isotope composition of pore water sulfate, South Florida Platform, U.S.A. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 63, 2529–2546 (1999).
Eyre, B. D., Glud, R. N. & Patten, N. Mass coral spawning: a natural large scale nutrient addition experiment. Limnol. Oceanogr. 53, 997–1013 (2008).
Eyre, B. D., Santos, I. R. & Maher, D. T. Seasonal, daily and diel N2 effluxes in permeable carbonate sediments. Biogeosciences 10, 2601–2615 (2013).
Hu, X. & Cai, W. J. An assessment of ocean margin anaerobic processes on oceanic alkalinity budget. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 25, GB3003 (2011).
Alongi, D. M., Trott, L. A. & Møhl, M. Strong tidal currents and labile organic matter stimulate benthic decomposition and carbonate fluxes on the southern Great Barrier Reef shelf. Cont. Shelf Res. 31, 1384–1395 (2011).
Risgaard-Petersen, N., Revil, A., Meister, P. & Nielsen, L. P. Sulphur, iron, and calcium cycling associated with natural electric currents running through marine sediment. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 92, 1–13 (2012).
Rao, A. M. F., Malkin, S. Y., Montserrat, F. & Meysman, F. J. R. Alkalinity production in intertidal sands intensified by lugworm bioirrigation. Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci. 148, 36–47 (2014).
Glud, R. N., Eyre, B. D. & Patten, N. Biogeochemical responses to mass coral spawning at the Great Barrier Reef: effects on respiration and primary production. Limnol. Oceanogr. 53, 1014–1024 (2008).
Anthony, K. R. N., Diaz-Pulido, G., Verlinden, N., Tilbrook, B. & Andersson, A. J. Benthic buffers and boosters of ocean acidification on coral reefs. Biogeosciences 10, 4897–4909 (2013).
Tribollet, A. in Current Developments in Bioerosion (eds Wisshak, M. & Tapanila, L.) 67–94 (Erlangen Earth Conference Series, Springer, 2008).
Neumann, A. C. Observations on coastal erosion in Bermuda and measurements of the boring rate of the sponge, Cliona lampa. Limnol. Oceanogr. 11, 92–108 (1966).
Schneider, K. et al. Potential influence of sea cucumbers on coral reef CaCO3 budget: a case study at One Tree Reef. J. Geophys. Res. 116, G04032 (2011).
Reyes-Nivia, C., Diaz-Pulido, G. & Dove, S. Relative roles of endolithic algae and carbonate chemistry variability in the skeletal dissolution of crustose coralline algae. Biogeosci. Discuss. 11, 2993–3021 (2014).
Fang, J. K. H. et al. Sponge biomass and bioerosion rates increase under ocean warming and acidification. Glob. Change Biol. 19, 3581–3591 (2013).
van Woesik, R., van Woesik, K., van Woesik, L. & van Woesik, S. Effects of ocean acidification on the dissolution rates of reef-coral skeletons. PeerJ 1, e208 (2013).
Peterson, M. N. A. Calcite: rates of dissolution in a vertical profile in the Central Pacific. Science 154, 1542–1544 (1966).
Milliman, J. D. Dissolution of aragonite, Mg-calcite, and calcite in the North Atlantic Ocean. Geology 3, 461–462 (1975).
Andersson, A., Bates, N. & Mackenzie, F. Dissolution of carbonate sediments under rising pCO2 and ocean acidification: observations from Devil's Hole, Bermuda. Aquat. Geochem. 13, 237–264 (2007).
Manzello, D. P. et al. Poorly cemented coral reefs of the eastern tropical Pacific: Possible insights into reef development in a high-CO2 world. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 10450–10455 (2008).
Fabricius, K. E. et al. Losers and winners in coral reefs acclimatized to elevated carbon dioxide concentrations. Nature Clim. Change 1, 165–169 (2011).
Hall-Spencer, J. M. et al. Volcanic carbon dioxide vents show ecosystem effects of ocean acidification. Nature 454, 96–99 (2008).
Fabricius, K. E. Effects of terrestrial runoff on the ecology of corals and coral reefs: Review and synthesis. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 50, 125–146 (2005).
Silverman, J. et al. Carbon turnover rates in the One Tree Island reef: A 40-year perspective. J. Geophys. Res. Biogeosci. 117, G03023 (2012).
Walter, L. M. & Burton, E. A. The effect of orthophosphate on carbonate mineral dissolution rates in seawater. Chem. Geol. 56, 313–323 (1986).
Brodie, J., Fabricius, K., De'ath, G. & Okaji, K. Are increased nutrient inputs responsible for more outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish? An appraisal of the evidence. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 51, 266–278 (2005).
Cyronak, T., Santos, I. R., Schulz, K. G. & Eyre, B. D. Enhanced coral reef acidification driven by regional biogeochemical feedbacks. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 5538–5546 (2014).
Hoegh-Guldberg, O. et al. Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Science 318, 1737–1742 (2007).
Kayanne, H. et al. Seasonal and bleaching-induced changes in coral reef metabolism and CO2 flux. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 19, 1–11 (2005).
Holland, G. J. & Webster, P. J. Heightened tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic: Natural variability or climate trend? Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365, 2695–2716 (2007).
Gray, S. E. C., DeGrandpre, M. D., Langdon, C. & Corredor, J. E. Short-term and seasonal pH, pCO2 and saturation state variability in a coral-reef ecosystem. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 26, GB3012 (2012).
Manzello, D., Enochs, I., Musielewicz, S., Carlton, R. & Gledhill, D. Tropical cyclones cause CaCO3 undersaturation of coral reef seawater in a high-CO2 world. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 118, 5312–5321 (2013).
Hughes, T. P., Graham, N. A. J., Jackson, J. B. C., Mumby, P. J. & Steneck, R. S. Rising to the challenge of sustaining coral reef resilience. Trend. Ecol. Evol. 25, 633–642 (2010).
Kleypas, J. A., Anthony, K. R. N. & Gattuso, J-P. Coral reefs modify their seawater carbon chemistry — case study from a barrier reef (Moorea, French Polynesia). Glob. Change Biol. 17, 3667–3678 (2011).
Anthony, K. R. N., Kleypas, J. A. & Gattuso, J-P. Coral reefs modify their seawater carbon chemistry — implications for impacts of ocean acidification. Glob. Change Biol. 17, 3655–3666 (2011).
Andersson, A. J. & Mackenzie, F. T. Revisiting four scientific debates in ocean acidification research. Biogeosciences 9, 893–905 (2012).
Balzer, W. & Wefer, G. Dissolution of carbonate minerals in a subtropical shallow marine environment. Mar. Chem. 10, 545–558 (1981).
Yates, K. & Halley, R. Measuring coral reef community metabolism using new benthic chamber technology. Coral Reefs 22, 247–255 (2003).
Anthony, K., Diaz-Pulido, G., Verlinden, N., Tilbrook, B. & Andersson, A. Benthic buffers and boosters of ocean acidification on coral reefs. Biogeosci. Discuss. 10, 1831–1865 (2013).
Rao, A. M. F., Polerecky, L., Ionescu, D., Meysman, F. J. R. & de Beer, D. The influence of pore-water advection, benthic photosynthesis, and respiration on calcium carbonate dynamics in reef sands. Limnol. Oceanogr. 57, 809–825 (2012).
Leclercq, N., Gattuso, J. P. & Jaubert, J. Primary production, respiration, and calcification of a coral reef mesocosm under increased CO2 partial pressure. Limnol. Oceanogr. 47, 558–564 (2002).
Boucher, G., Clavier, J., Hily, C. & Gattuso, J. Contribution of soft-bottoms to the community metabolism (primary production and calcification) of a barrier reef flat (Moorea, French Polynesia). J. Exp. Biol. Ecol. 225, 269–283 (1998).
The outline for this manuscript was penned when B.D.E. was visiting Scripps Institution of Oceanography while on sabbatical supported by a Southern Cross University Study Leave grant. This work was funded by Australian Research Council Grants DP110103638 and LP100200732 awarded to B.D.E. and NSF 12-55042 to A.J.A. I. Alexander assisted with drawing some of the figures and M. Eyre assisted with the endnote database and proofing.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Eyre, B., Andersson, A. & Cyronak, T. Benthic coral reef calcium carbonate dissolution in an acidifying ocean. Nature Clim Change 4, 969–976 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2380
Late Afternoon Seasonal Transition to Dissolution in a Coral Reef: An Early Warning of a Net Dissolving Ecosystem?
Geophysical Research Letters (2021)
Coastal development threatens Datan area supporting greatest fish diversity at Taoyuan Algal Reef, northwestern Taiwan
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems (2021)
Coral Reefs (2021)
Ocean warming and acidification uncouple calcification from calcifier biomass which accelerates coral reef decline
Communications Earth & Environment (2020)
Vulnerability of global coral reef habitat suitability to ocean warming, acidification and eutrophication
Global Change Biology (2020)