Tiny shell fossils reveal how ocean acidification can cause mass extinction

A general view of a school of fish in a healthy coral reef off the coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico on September 26, 2018.

(CNN)Ocean acidification caused a mass extinction of marine life 66 million years ago, research into tiny shell fossils has shown. This could have implications for the current climate crisis, which is also making the oceans more acidic.

Slightly less than 66 million years ago, a giant asteroid hit the earth near the Mexican town of Chicxulub, leading to massive tsunamis, earthquake-driven gravity flows and the ejection of molten rocks, according to a new paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This in turn caused acid rain and large scale acidification of the world's oceans, prompting a mass extinction of most marine and land based life, including all dinosaurs.
Modeling had previously produced evidence of this ecological collapse but the mechanisms through which it occurred were unknown. To overcome this, the team of researchers led by Michael Henehan, a postdoctoral scientist at the GFZ research center in Potsdam, studied sea shells trapped in sediment which formed just after the asteroid hit.
The samples were taken from caves and rivers in the Netherlands, Mississippi and Texas, as well as from deep-sea drilling sites, according to the paper.

    A culprit

    They found that the shell walls had become very thin because of a sharp drop in the pH of the oceans -- a sign of acidification -- a 100 to 1,000 years after the strike. This demonstrated that the asteroid impact was the main culprit for making the oceans more acidic and causing a mass die-off of marine life, the researchers said. Intense volcanic activity had also been considered as a possible cause.
    Today, the world's seas are again becoming more acidic, due to an increase in carbon emissions. At least