39 steps to understanding ocean acidification

Plymouth marine scientists have joined with international colleagues to help educate the public about “ocean acidification,” the scientific details of which are intricate and sometimes counterintuitive. Twenty-seven scientists from five countries worked together to produce and distribute a document to provide accessible and accurate answers to the most commonly asked questions about this growing problem. Seven of those scientists engaged in ocean acidification research are from the UK, including four from Plymouth.

Ocean acidification is caused by ocean uptake of anthropogenic CO2; it is a global issue and is happening now, it is measurable, and it will continue as more CO2 is emitted,” says Dr Carol Turley of Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the knowledge transfer co-ordinator of the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme. “Already ocean acidity has increased by about 30% and by 2100, if we continue emitting CO2 at the same rate, ocean acidity would have increased by about 150%. Such a monumental alteration in basic ocean chemistry is likely to have wide implications for ocean life, especially for those organisms that require calcium carbonate to build shells or skeletons”.

University of Plymouth researcher Dr Jason Hall-Spencer’s studies have provided a glimpse of what the future might look like for the marine environment if ocean acidification continues to increase: “By investigating how life copes around submarine volcanic vents emitting CO2, we have seen that sea grass and some seaweed species actually thrive, but over the longer term the environment is degraded, alien algae move in and coastal habitats are disrupted. I am very happy to contribute to the document ‘Frequently asked questions about ocean acidification’, in the hope that more people will become aware of this worrying phenomenon.”.

Ocean acidification is a relatively new field of research, with most of the studies having been conducted over the last decade. While it is gaining some attention among policy makers and international leaders, the scientists find there is still a lack of understanding amongst the public. A group of eminent marine scientists, including some of the Plymouth team, met at the COP15 climate change talks in Copenhagen just before Christmas and decided to do something about it through the production of a FAQ. “We realized the messages citizens were getting about the science weren’t clear enough,” says Sarah Cooley, a post-doctoral investigator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in the USA, which is home to the Ocean Carbon and Biochemistry (OCB) programme office. “Everyone we contacted felt there was a need to do this. We decided to sketch out a list of questions we’ve all heard or we think might be asked,” Cooley adds.

Working by email, the group of scientists agreed on a set of 39 questions and established a process to develop clear and accurate answers that could be understood by a lay audience. All the answers were put back out to the scientific community for open peer-review, revision and approval.
Further Information:

The document, ‘Frequently asked questions about ocean acidification’, will be published on the OCB’s ocean acidification Web site as well as the European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA) Web site. EPOCA is funded by the European Union with the goal to facilitate research, promote collaboration, and to undertake outreach efforts to distribute research results.

The 5 year £12 M UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme http://www.nerc.ac.uk/research/programmes/oceanacidification/ is funded by NERC, Defra and DECC

The list will be revised periodically and maintained at http://www.whoi.edu/OCB-OA/FAQs and http://www.epoca-project.eu/index.php/FAQ.html.

FAQs ocean acidification can be accessed on this website and the University of Plymouth website http://www.plymouth.ac.uk/

Plymouth marine scientists involved in the production of the FAQ document are:
Dr Carol Turley, Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, University of Plymouth
Dr Steve Widdicombe, Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Dr Helen Findlay, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

For Plymouth Marine Laboratory – Kelvin Boot kelota@pml.ac.uk 07792 385158
For University of Plymouth – Andrew Merrington andrew.merrington@plymouth.ac.uk 01752 588003

Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) http://www.pml.ac.uk
PML is an independent, impartial provider of scientific research, contract services and advice for the marine environment, with a focus on understanding how marine ecosystems function and reducing uncertainty about the complex processes and structures that sustain life in the seas and their role in the Earth system.

University of Plymouth http://www.plymouth.ac.uk
With around 30,000 students, including those studying at its partner FE colleges throughout the South West, the University of Plymouth is one of largest Higher Education institutions in the UK. It has a strong record of excellence, enterprise and innovation across its teaching and research activities and is ranked in the top 50 research universities in the UK. As the enterprise university, the University of Plymouth delivers outstanding economic, social and cultural return for business, the professions, the public sector and its wider community.

Plymouth Marine Laboratory. 24 February 2010. Press release.

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