Hey oceans: We need to talk about your odor problem

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As if greenhouse gas emissions weren’t giving us enough to worry about already, here’s a new thing: They could make the sea smell weird.

New research suggests that increased ocean acidification from CO2 emissions may alter the ability of marine life to detect chemical signals through smell. And for marine organisms that rely heavily on their sense of smell to navigate, this can hinder their ability to find food, track mates, and even recognize offspring. Chemist Mark Lorch and other researchers tested their hypothesis using shore crabs, and found that in water with a low pH, females didn’t respond as well to the smell of their own eggs.

The oceans absorb a massive amount of carbon from the atmosphere — roughly half of all CO2 emissions — and as it dissolves, carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid, which makes water more acidic. In fact, the oceans today are 30 percent more acidic than they were 200 years ago.

“As a consequence,” Lorch writes in the Guardian, “the oceans of the near future may well smell very different from those of today, and marine eco-systems may not have time to adapt to its new scent.”

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