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Benthic coral reef calcium carbonate dissolution in an acidifying ocean



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.

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Figure 1: Conceptual model of factors controlling CaCO3 sediment dissolution.
Figure 2: Conceptual model illustrating the processes affecting whole coral reef accretion with global production and accumulation rates, adapted from ref. 31.
Figure 3: Timeline of studies addressing various aspects of carbonate dissolution from the 1960s until present.
Figure 4: Number of publications per year from a Scopus search of 'ocean acidification' and 'coral' in the title, abstract and keywords between 2005 and 2013.


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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.

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B.D.E. and A.J.A. conceived the review. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bradley D. Eyre.

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Eyre, B., Andersson, A. & Cyronak, T. Benthic coral reef calcium carbonate dissolution in an acidifying ocean. Nature Clim Change 4, 969–976 (2014).

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