published on 16 February 2021 in life

Sea stars sentinels of climate change

The Norwegian Sea is home to a starfish that is a veritable sentinel of climate change. This starfish, which in English is called cookie-cutter seastar because of its shape similar to a cookie cutter, has become the subject of a study conducted by Canadian physicist Pierre Thibault, of the University of Trieste, with Irene Zanette, a researcher at the University of Southampton. The research group, expert in X-ray analysis techniques, has used the Elettra synchrotron, a particle accelerator, as a powerful microscope with which to obtain a large amount of biological data on the reproductive and digestive organs of these organisms and how they are able to adapt to climate change. The scientific name of these starfish, very common in the Norwegian Sea, is Ctenodiscus crispatus. It is believed that they play an important role in the process of carbon capture and therefore the measurements performed in the study may help to understand the effects of climate change on these organisms.

Ctenodiscus crispatus. Credits: commons.wikimedia.org

Studying the oceans and their inhabitants is crucial to understanding the extent of climate change. In fact, these ecosystems absorb more than 90% of the Earth’s excess heat. They also accumulate large amounts of carbon dioxide, which causes the ocean’s pH to decrease, leading to a phenomenon known as acidification that has major repercussions on biodiversity, including starfish. Added to this is the melting of glaciers, due to which large quantities of fresh water are flowing into the oceans, thus causing significant alterations to ecosystems and marine currents; in the case of the Norwegian Sea, the glaciers concerned are those of Greenland and the Canadian islands.

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