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White seabass that live in ocean water with high concentrations of carbon dioxide end up with bigger ear bones, according to a newly released study by researchers at the UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The study, due to be published Friday in the journal Science, is the first to show that rising carbon dioxide levels in oceans can impact the bodily structures of marine life.

David Checkley, a Scripps professor and lead author of the study, said he and other researchers were expecting to show that higher C02 levels would cause the seabass ear bones to grow more slowly. Instead, the opposite happened.

Checkley said he does not know what this means to the overall health of the fish, but the sense is that it probably isn’t good.

“The assumption is that if you tweak them in a certain way it’s going to change the dynamics of how the [ear bone] helps the fish stay upright, navigate and survive,” said Checkley in a Scripps news release.

The burning of fossil fuels has led to a significant rise in ocean C02 and ocean acidification, which has been shown to damage ocean life from coral reefs to the shells of mollusks.

DAVID WASHBURN

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