Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Carbonic acid


Although many people naively assume that the bite of carbonation is due to tactile stimulation of the oral cavity by bubbles, it has become increasingly clear that carbonation bite comes mainly from formation of carbonic acid in the oral mucosa. In Experiment 1, we asked whether bubbles were in fact required to perceive carbonation bite. Subjects rated oral pungency from several concentrations of carbonated water both at normal atmospheric pressure (at which bubbles could form) and at 2.0 atmospheres pressure (at which bubbles did not form). Ratings of carbonation bite under the two pressure conditions were essentially identical, indicating that bubbles are not required for pungency. In Experiment 2, we created controlled streams of air bubbles around the tongue in mildly pungent CO2 solutions to determine how tactile stimulation from bubbles affects carbonation bite. Since innocuous sensations like light touch and cooling often suppress pain, we predicted that bubbles might reduce rated bite. Contrary to prediction, air bubbles flowing around the tongue significantly enhanced rated bite, without inducing perceived bite in blank (un-carbonated) solutions. Accordingly, though bubbles are clearly not required for carbonation bite, they may well modulate perceived bite. More generally, the results show that innocuous tactile stimulation can enhance chemogenic pain. Possible physiological mechanisms are discussed.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Oral mucosa, Perception, Sense, Atmospheric pressure, Carbonic acid, Carbonation, Carbonated water


In the recent discussion how biotic systems may react to ocean acidification caused by the rapid rise in carbon dioxide partial pressure (pCO(2)) in the marine realm, substantial research is devoted to calcifiers such as stony corals. The antagonistic process - biologically induced carbonate dissolution via bioerosion - has largely been neglected. Unlike skeletal growth, we expect bioerosion by chemical means to be facilitated in a high-CO(2) world. This study focuses on one of the most detrimental bioeroders, the sponge Cliona orientalis, which attacks and kills live corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Experimental exposure to lowered and elevated levels of pCO(2) confirms a significant enforcement of the sponges' bioerosion capacity with increasing pCO(2) under more acidic conditions. Considering the substantial contribution of sponges to carbonate bioerosion, this finding implies that tropical reef ecosystems are facing the combined effects of weakened coral calcification and accelerated bioerosion, resulting in critical pressure on the dynamic balance between biogenic carbonate build-up and degradation.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Coral, Coral reef, Carbon, Carbonic acid, Great Barrier Reef


Increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations lead to decreased pH and carbonate availability in the ocean (Ocean Acidification, OA). Carbon dioxide seeps serve as ‘windows into the future’ to study the ability of marine invertebrates to acclimatise to OA. We studied benthic foraminifera in sediments from shallow volcanic CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea. Conditions follow a gradient from present day pH/pCO2 to those expected past 2100. We show that foraminiferal densities and diversity declined steeply with increasing pCO2. Foraminifera were almost absent at sites with pH < 7.9 (>700 μatm pCO2). Symbiont-bearing species did not exhibit reduced vulnerability to extinction at <7.9 pH. Non-calcifying taxa declined less steeply along pCO2 gradients, but were also absent in samples at pH < 7.9. Data suggest the possibility of an OA induced ecological extinction of shallow tropical benthic foraminifera by 2100; similar to extinctions observed in the geological past.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Carbon, PH, Bicarbonate, Carbonic acid, Volcano, Global warming, Foraminifera


Exponentially rising CO2 (currently ~400 μatm) is driving climate change and causing acidification of both marine and freshwater environments. Physiologists have long known that CO2 directly affects acid-base and ion regulation, respiratory function and aerobic performance in aquatic animals. More recently, many studies have demonstrated that elevated CO2 projected for end of this century (e.g. 800-1000 μatm) can also impact physiology, and have substantial effects on behaviours linked to sensory stimuli (smell, hearing and vision) both having negative implications for fitness and survival. In contrast, the aquaculture industry was farming aquatic animals at CO2 levels that far exceed end-of-century climate change projections (sometimes >10 000 μatm) long before the term ‘ocean acidification’ was coined, with limited detrimental effects reported. It is therefore vital to understand the reasons behind this apparent discrepancy. Potential explanations include 1) the use of ‘control’ CO2 levels in aquaculture studies that go beyond 2100 projections in an ocean acidification context; 2) the relatively benign environment in aquaculture (abundant food, disease protection, absence of predators) compared to the wild; 3) aquaculture species having been chosen due to their natural tolerance to the intensive conditions, including CO2 levels; or 4) the breeding of species within intensive aquaculture having further selected traits that confer tolerance to elevated CO2 . We highlight this issue and outline the insights that climate change and aquaculture science can offer for both marine and freshwater settings. Integrating these two fields will stimulate discussion on the direction of future cross-disciplinary research. In doing so, this article aimed to optimize future research efforts and elucidate effective mitigation strategies for managing the negative impacts of elevated CO2 on future aquatic ecosystems and the sustainability of fish and shellfish aquaculture.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Fish, Water, Climate, Ecosystem, Ocean, Carbonic acid, Aquatic ecology


The chemistry of the elements is heavily altered by high pressure, with stabilization of many new and often unexpected compounds, the emergence of which can profoundly change models of planetary interiors, where high pressure reigns. The C-H-O system is one of the most important planet-forming systems, but its high-pressure chemistry is not well known. Here, using state-of-the-art variable-composition evolutionary searches combined with quantum-mechanical calculations, we explore the C-H-O system at pressures up to 400 GPa. Besides uncovering new stable polymorphs of high-pressure elements and known molecules, we predicted the formation of new compounds. A 2CH4:3H2 inclusion compound forms at low pressure and remains stable up to 215 GPa. Carbonic acid (H2CO3), highly unstable at ambient conditions, was predicted to form exothermically at mild pressure (about 1 GPa). As pressure rises, it polymerizes and, above 314 GPa, reacts with water to form orthocarbonic acid (H4CO4). This unexpected high-pressure chemistry is rationalized by analyzing charge density and electron localization function distributions, and implications for general chemistry and planetary science are also discussed.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Fundamental physics concepts, Molecule, Chemistry, Atom, Quantum chemistry, Bicarbonate, Carbonic acid


Approximately one-quarter of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year is absorbed by the global oceans, causing measurable declines in surface ocean pH, carbonate ion concentration ([CO3(2-)]), and saturation state of carbonate minerals (Ω). This process, referred to as ocean acidification, represents a major threat to marine ecosystems, in particular marine calcifiers such as oysters, crabs, and corals. Laboratory and field studies have shown that calcification rates of many organisms decrease with declining pH, [CO3(2-)], and Ω. Coral reefs are widely regarded as one of the most vulnerable marine ecosystems to ocean acidification, in part because the very architecture of the ecosystem is reliant on carbonate-secreting organisms. Acidification-induced reductions in calcification are projected to shift coral reefs from a state of net accretion to one of net dissolution this century. While retrospective studies show large-scale declines in coral, and community, calcification over recent decades, determining the contribution of ocean acidification to these changes is difficult, if not impossible, owing to the confounding effects of other environmental factors such as temperature. Here we quantify the net calcification response of a coral reef flat to alkalinity enrichment, and show that, when ocean chemistry is restored closer to pre-industrial conditions, net community calcification increases. In providing results from the first seawater chemistry manipulation experiment of a natural coral reef community, we provide evidence that net community calcification is depressed compared with values expected for pre-industrial conditions, indicating that ocean acidification may already be impairing coral reef growth.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Coral, Coral reef, Carbon, Ocean, Carbonic acid, Aragonite, Ocean acidification


Ocean acidification (OA) projections are primarily based on open ocean environments, despite the ecological importance of coastal systems in which carbonate dynamics are fundamentally different. Using temperate tide pools as a natural laboratory, we quantified the relative contribution of community composition, ecosystem metabolism, and physical attributes to spatiotemporal variability in carbonate chemistry. We found that biological processes were the primary drivers of local pH conditions. Specifically, non-encrusting producer-dominated systems had the highest and most variable pH environments and the highest production rates, patterns that were consistent across sites spanning 11° of latitude and encompassing multiple gradients of natural variability. Furthermore, we demonstrated a biophysical feedback loop in which net community production increased pH, leading to higher net ecosystem calcification. Extreme spatiotemporal variability in pH is, thus, both impacting and driven by biological processes, indicating that shifts in community composition and ecosystem metabolism are poised to locally buffer or intensify the effects of OA.

Concepts: Ecology, Oceanography, Natural environment, Climate, PH, Ocean, Carbonic acid, Tide


Understanding mollusk calcification sensitivity to ocean acidification (OA) requires a better knowledge of calcification mechanisms. Especially in rapidly calcifying larval stages, mechanisms of shell formation are largely unexplored-yet these are the most vulnerable life stages. Here we find rapid generation of crystalline shell material in mussel larvae. We find no evidence for intracellular CaCO3 formation, indicating that mineral formation could be constrained to the calcifying space beneath the shell. Using microelectrodes we show that larvae can increase pH and [CO3(2-)] beneath the growing shell, leading to a ~1.5-fold elevation in calcium carbonate saturation state (Ωarag). Larvae exposed to OA exhibit a drop in pH, [CO3(2-)] and Ωarag at the site of calcification, which correlates with decreased shell growth, and, eventually, shell dissolution. Our findings help explain why bivalve larvae can form shells under moderate acidification scenarios and provide a direct link between ocean carbonate chemistry and larval calcification rate.

Concepts: Larva, Mineral, Calcium carbonate, Mollusca, Carbonic acid, Calcite, Aragonite, Ocean acidification


Disturbances are natural features of ecosystems that promote variability in the community and ultimately maintain diversity. Although it is recognized that global change will affect environmental disturbance regimes, our understanding of the community dynamics governing ecosystem recovery and the maintenance of functional diversity in future scenarios is very limited. Here, we use one of the few ecosystems naturally exposed to future scenarios of environmental change to examine disturbance and recovery dynamics. We examine the recovery patterns of marine species from a physical disturbance across different acidification regimes caused by volcanic CO2 vents. Plots of shallow rocky reef were cleared of all species in areas of ambient, low, and extreme low pH that correspond to near-future and extreme scenarios for ocean acidification. Our results illustrate how acidification decreases the variability of communities, resulting in homogenization and reduced functional diversity at a landscape scale. Whereas the recovery trajectories in ambient pH were highly variable and resulted in a diverse range of assemblages, recovery was more predictable with acidification and consistently resulted in very similar algal-dominated assemblages. Furthermore, low pH zones had fewer signs of biological disturbance (primarily sea urchin grazing) and increased recovery rates of the dominant taxa (primarily fleshy algae). Together, our results highlight how environmental change can cause ecosystem simplification via environmentally mediated changes in community dynamics in the near future, with cascading impacts on functional diversity and ecosystem function.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Natural environment, Ecosystem, PH, Ocean, Carbonic acid, Ocean acidification, Ecological succession


Anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) is being absorbed into the ocean, altering seawater chemistry, with potentially negative impacts on a wide range of marine organisms. The early life stages of invertebrates with internal and external aragonite structures may be particularly vulnerable to this ocean acidification. Impacts to cephalopods, which form aragonite cuttlebones and statoliths, are of concern because of the central role they play in many ocean ecosystems and because of their importance to global fisheries. Atlantic longfin squid (Doryteuthis pealeii), an ecologically and economically valuable taxon, were reared from eggs to hatchlings (paralarvae) under ambient and elevated CO2 concentrations in replicated experimental trials. Animals raised under elevated pCO2 demonstrated significant developmental changes including increased time to hatching and shorter mantle lengths, although differences were small. Aragonite statoliths, critical for balance and detecting movement, had significantly reduced surface area and were abnormally shaped with increased porosity and altered crystal structure in elevated pCO2-reared paralarvae. These developmental and physiological effects could alter squid paralarvae behavior and survival in the wild, directly and indirectly impacting marine food webs and commercial fisheries.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Carbon dioxide, Carbon, PH, Fisheries, Ocean, Carbonic acid