It didn’t take long for researchers examining the tiny sea snails to see something amiss.
The surface of some of their thin outer shells looked as if they had been etched by a solvent. Others were deeply pitted and pocked.
These translucent sea butterflies known as pteropods, which provide food for salmon, herring and other fish, hadn’t been burned in some horrific lab accident.
They were being eaten away by the Pacific Ocean.
For the first time, scientists have documented that souring seas caused by carbon-dioxide emissions are dissolving pteropods in the wild right now along the U.S. West Coast. That is damaging a potentially important link in the marine food web far sooner than expected.
“What we found was just amazing to us,” said Richard Feely, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, who helped collect the live samples. “We did the most thorough analysis that’s ever been done and found extensive impacts on marine life in the field from ocean acidification.”
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This is one installment of Pulitzer Center grantees Craig Welch and Steve Ringman’s reporting project: Sea Change. View the whole project, including reporting, videos and photographs, now.