Concern over impact of rising ocean acidity

Channel 4 News science correspondent Tom Clarke reports from the Arctic, where scientists are investigating ocean acidification – one of the most disturbing consequences of climate change. Five yeas ago, no one outside a very small group of ocean scientists had heard of ocean acidification.

Now, it’s one of the most worrying phenomena confronting those who care about the radical changes that seem to be happening on our planet. Worrying enough to compel a team of three UK scientists to camp on the sea ice floating on top of the Arctic Ocean for 35 days in conditions as tough as anywhere on the planet.

I’ve just returned from their camp where I was given exclusive access to this unique team who are trying to understand how this phenomenon might be impacting the Arctic Ocean – and what the implications for our planet might be.

Their initial findings may suggest this pristine ocean is already more acidic than others, and that the chemical balance of the ocean may already be becoming unfavourable for the tiny plankton that live there.

Don’t care much about tiny plankton? Well you should. They form a fundamental cog in the ecological machinery that make the Earth a hospitable place for us to live.

And the scientists I spent a week with on the arctic sea ice care very much about plankton. Despite temperatures of 40 below freezing, the threat or frost bite and possible encounters with polar bears, they worked into the night (or should that be the never ending arctic daylight) trying to get the first picture of how these creatures are coping and how the chemistry of the Arctic Ocean below the ice might be changing.

I watched Dr Ceri Lewis, a marine biologist from the University of Exeter, hurry her samples of minute shrimp-like creatures called copepods from a hole she had cut into the ice into the lab. Why the hurry? Insulated by the ice above, the sea is just two degrees below freezing, but the air above 20 below – or colder. “The cold affects everything we do,” Dr Lewis told me.

Tom Clarke, Channel 4, 6 May 2010. Full article and video.

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