EPOCA – European Project on OCean Acidification

Jean-Pierre Gattuso, Lina Hansson and the EPOCA Consortium
EPOCA Project Office: CNRS-Université de Paris 6, Villefranche-sur-Mer, France

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, about one third of the CO2 released in the atmosphere by anthropogenic activities has been absorbed by the world’s oceans, which play a key role in moderating climate change (Sabine et al., 2004). As CO2 reacts with seawater, it generates dramatic changes in carbonate chemistry, including decreases in pH and in the concentration of carbonate ions. The impacts of this phenomenon, known as “ocean acidification”, on marine ecosystems are only poorly known. One of the most likely consequences is the slower growth of organisms forming calcareous skeletons or shells, such as corals and mollusks. More information on the effects of ocean acidification is a major environmental priority because of the threat it poses to certain processes, organisms and ecosystems.

The EU FP7 Integrated Project EPOCA (European Project on OCean Acidification) was launched in June 2008 with the overall goal to advance our understanding of the biological, ecological, biogeochemical, and societal implications of ocean acidification (Fig. 1). The EPOCA consortium brings together more than 100 researchers from 27 institutes1 and 9 European countries. The budget of this 4 year long project is 15.9 M€, including 6.5 M€ from the European Commission.

Fig. 1 – Group photograph from the EPOCA kick-off meeting in Nice (France), 10-13 June. © John Pusceddu / CNRS Délégation Côte d’Azur.

The research efforts of EPOCA are divided into four themes.

  • Theme 1 will focus on past and present spatiotemporal changes in ocean chemistry and biogeography of key marine organisms. Paleo-reconstruction methods will be used on several archives, including foraminifera and deep-sea corals, to determine past variability in ocean chemistry (carbonate, nutrients, and trace metals) and to tie this variability to present-day chemical and biological observations.
  • Theme 2 will quantify impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms and ecosystems. Molecular, physiological and ecological approaches will be used to study climate-relevant biogeochemical processes, including calcification, primary production and nitrogen fixation. Laboratory and field perturbation experiments will focus on key organisms in terms of their ecological, biogeochemical, or socioeconomic importance. The potential for adaptation and acclimation will be assessed.
  • Theme 3 will improve biogeochemical, sediment, and coupled ocean-climate models to better account for how ocean acidification will affect ocean biogeochemistry and ecosystems. Special attention will be paid to feedbacks of physiological changes on the carbon, nitrogen, iron, and sulfur cycles and how these changes will affect and be affected by future climate change.
  • Theme 4 will synthesize results obtained in Themes 1, 2 and 3 for business leaders, policy-makers and the general public. It will evaluate uncertainties, risks and thresholds (“tipping points”) related to ocean acidification at molecular, cellular and organismal levels and from local to global scales. It will also assess the decrease in CO2 emissions required to avoid these thresholds and describe the change to the marine environment and Earth system, should these emissions be exceeded.

Interactions between the different themes will be both ways (Fig. 2). For example, Theme 3 will exploit information from Theme 2 to help predict future changes in ocean biogeochemistry and ecosystems, but results from Theme 3 will also feed back into Theme 2 by providing critical information on the expected temporal and spatial changes of ocean acidification and thus enable meaningful experimental designs.

Training and dissemination of knowledge are important components of EPOCA, which will organise several training workshops for Ph.D students and also bring its contribution to a better connection between research and secondary school education. The workshops will be open to non-EPOCA scientists whenever possible.

EPOCA strives for an active international cooperation on ocean acidification and will coordinate with major national and international projects and programmes. In particular, its International Scientific Advisory Panel, with members from the United States and Korea, and one of the EPOCA partners (the intergovernmental organization IOC-UNESCO) ensure that ocean acidification research being carried out through this project is coordinated with the research activities of non-EU scientists.

For more information please contact the EPOCA Project Office: Jean-Pierre Gattuso, project coordinator, gattuso@obs-vlfr.fr or Lina Hansson, project manager, hansson@obs-vlfr.fr
Laboratoire d’Océanographie, CNRS-Université Pierre et Marie Curie-Paris 6, BP 28, 06234 Villefranche-sur-mer Cedex, France.
Preliminary web site: http://epoca-project.eu.

(1) A complete list of the members of EPOCA is available at http://epoca-project.eu

IMBER Newsletter, July 2008. Article.

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