Archive for June, 2010



UK science spotlights ocean acidification

The UK’s first research programme to investigate the impacts of ocean acidification has been launched, involving 101 scientists from 21 of the UK’s top scientific institutions.

The UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme consists of several projects working together to investigate different aspects of this global issue.

The world’s seas are absorbing high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) mainly produced by human activities, such as fossil fuel burning. The absorbed CO2 fundamentally changes the chemistry of oceans which results in a rise in ocean acidity. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution ocean acidity has risen by about 30%.
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Ocean acidification funding

The National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, are to lead major elements of the UK’s Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOARP), which will investigate the potentially significant negative impacts of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems, and ultimately its possible influence on global climate.

UKOARP involves 101 scientists from 21 of the UK’s top scientific institutions and is the UK’s first research programme to investigate the impacts of ocean acidification. The UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme consists of several projects working together to investigate different aspects of this global issue.

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, ocean acidity has risen by about 30%. Ocean acidification is estimated to be currently occurring at a rate faster than has been experienced during the last 20 million years. If carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise and the acidity of the World’s oceans and seas continues to increase at this rate this could have serious consequences for important cycles that drive the climate as well as marine life (e.g. corals, shellfish, algae and the plankton that form the base of the food chain) within this century. Such impacts could reach far beyond the marine environment, to that of climate, food provision and human health and well-being.

The scale and nature of the effects of ocean acidification are still poorly known and require substantial research to enable society to understand them better.

Dr Toby Tyrrell of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES) and colleague Prof. Eric Achterberg, will coordinate a GBP3.6 million multi-institute consortium to investigate the impacts of acidification on the surface ocean and the plankton (both calcifying and non-calcifying) which inhabit it.
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UK science spotlights ocean acidification

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University are co-ordinating research into how climate change might affect biodiversity in our offshore waters, and which might have a serious impact on future medical treatments.

Dr J Murray Roberts, Reader in Biodiversity at Heriot-Watt University, leads the project. “Many people don’t even realise that there are very large scale cold-water coral reefs off the west coast of Scotland and that these are homes to a wide variety of other marine life.

“This in itself is important because some of the most important developments in new drugs, including anti-cancer therapies, come from marine organisms, particularly sponges. To date these have often been tropical sponges, but cold-water sponges are now becoming a new focus of attention.

“We recently logged 100 species of sponges in cold-water coral reefs at Mingulay, so any threat to these reefs means a threat to local biodiversity and in turn a threat to potential new drug treatments.

“If the ocean acidification projections are correct, waters that have been suitable for cold-water coral growth for many hundreds of thousands of years could become corrosive by the end of the century. Cold-water corals produce one of the most biodiversity-rich habitats in the oceans but we’ve barely begun to understand their ecology and importance. It’s starting to look as though we could be altering the chemistry of the oceans to such an extent that cold-water corals will simply start to dissolve where they’re growing so this project is vitally important to understand how the corals may respond to a changing world.”
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NRC’s report on Ocean Acidification

I am pleased to announce that the prepublication version of the NRC’s report on Ocean Acidification is now available to the public.
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Rising ocean acidity a threat to marine life

Rising acidity of ocean waters will wipe out the world’s coral reefs and could devastate crab, scallops and other creatures that build shells from calcium compounds in ocean waters, a top professor told a Fort Bragg audience last Friday.

San Francisco State Professor Jonathon Stillman presented figures that showed the pH balance of ocean waters has tilted toward acid in the past 20 years. That’s nearly as much as it did in the previous 200 years, which were themselves a steady but slow increase over historical levels.

The bad news could be good news for Fort Bragg’s efforts to launch a marine science study center. Millions in study funding has already been pledged by various organizations to monitor new Marine Life Protected Areas. Ocean acidification and upwelling present further tasks critical to the planet’s future that a local marine study center could help with, locals said.
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Larvae of the pteropod Cavolinia inflexa exposed to aragonite undersaturation are viable but shell-less

Larvae of the Mediterranean pteropod Cavolinia inflexa were maintained at controlled pHT values of 8.1, 7.82 and 7.51, equivalent, respectively, to pCO2 levels of 380, 857 and 1,713 μatm. At pHT 7.82, larvae exhibited malformations and lower shell growth, compared to the control condition. At pHT 7.51, the larvae did not make shells but were viable and showed a normal development. However, smaller shells or no shells will have both ecological (food web) and biogeochemical (export of carbon and carbonate) consequences. These results suggest that pteropod larvae, as well as the species dependent upon them or upon adults as a food resource, might be significantly impacted by ocean acidification.
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Ocean acidification: separating evidence from judgment. A reply to Dupont et al

Recently ocean acidification as a major threat for marine species has moved from a consensus statement into a much discussed and even challenged conception. A simple meta-analysis of Hendriks et al. (2010) showed that based on results of pooled experimental evidence, marine biota may turn out to be more resistant than hitherto believed. Dupont et al. (2010) indicate the importance of evaluating the most vulnerable stages in the life cycle of organisms instead of only adult stages. Here we evaluate additional material, composed of experimental evidence of the effect of ocean acidification on marine organisms during adult, larval, and juvenile stages, and show that the observed effects are within the range predicted by Hendriks et al. (2010). Species-specific differences and a wide variance in the reaction of organisms might obscure patterns of differences between life stages. Future research should be aimed to clarify underlying mechanisms to define the effect ocean acidification will have on marine biodiversity. Conveying scientific evidence along with an open acknowledgment of uncertainties to help separate evidence from judgment should not harm the need to act to mitigate ocean acidification and should pave the road for robust progress in our understanding of how ocean acidification impacts biota of the ocean.
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Ocean acidification and Antarctic shellfish

Experiments on Antarctic shellfish at NIWA are revealing the potential effects of ocean acidification on fragile marine ecosystems.

Acidification of the world’s oceans from rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reduces the amount of calcium carbonate in seawater, a compound some marine organisms use to build shells and skeletons. It may even dissolve calcium carbonate structures. Effects on key species have the potential to alter entire ecosystems.

The cold waters of the Antarctic and Arctic naturally contain less calcium carbonate than waters elsewhere and are expected to suffer the effects of acidification decades before the rest of the world. Southern Ocean waters are predicted to reach levels of acidity that would hinder formation of calcium carbonate shells and skeletons as early as 2030.

The repercussions for Antarctic benthic organisms are currently unknown, but could be profound. “It’s already a tough world down there, and it might be difficult for them to adapt to such an environmental change,” says NIWA ecologist Vonda Cummings.
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PhD opportunity: Constraining marine carbon fluxes and their effect on atmospheric CO2

Dept/School: Cardiff School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University
Project Supervisor(s): Dr S Barker, Dr A Ridgwell
Application Deadline: 30 June 2010

Ocean Acidification (OA) is a major concern for modern society. However, it is clear from the geological record that the Earth’s oceans have witnessed many episodes of acidification (or the reverse) in the past. Some of these have been caused by external perturbations to the climate system (for example the massive injection of carbon during the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum ~55Ma) while others were driven by internal physical and / or biogeochemical processes, such as the well-known glacial-interglacial cycles of atmospheric CO2. There is an array of uncertainties surrounding the processes involved in OA. This project is concerned with the interplay between two of the most important of these.

The ‘biological pump’ describes the transport of organic carbon from the surface to deep ocean. An increase in the strength of this pump will cause a decrease in atmospheric CO2. The inorganic pump describes the transport of biogenic carbonate to the deep sea. Production of CaCO3 by plankton in the surface ocean causes a reduction in dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) but also in Total Alkalinity (TA). The resultant decrease in the ratio of TA / DIC actually causes an increase in CO2 thus a strengthening of the inorganic pump would cause atmospheric CO2 to rise. Knowledge of how these processes have and will respond and interact with OA is of obvious importance. Furthermore there is growing evidence that they are not independent.
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Marine biodiversity–ecosystem functions under uncertain environmental futures

Anthropogenic activity is currently leading to dramatic transformations of ecosystems and losses of biodiversity. The recognition that these ecosystems provide services that are essential for human well-being has led to a major interest in the forms of the biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationship. However, there is a lack of studies examining the impact of climate change on these relationships and it remains unclear how multiple climatic drivers may affect levels of ecosystem functioning. Here, we examine the roles of two important climate change variables, temperature and concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, on the relationship between invertebrate species richness and nutrient release in a model benthic estuarine system. We found a positive relationship between invertebrate species richness and the levels of release of NH4-N into the water column, but no effect of species richness on the release of PO4-P. Higher temperatures and greater concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide had a negative impact on nutrient release. Importantly, we found significant interactions between the climate variables, indicating that reliably predicting the effects of future climate change will not be straightforward as multiple drivers are unlikely to have purely additive effects, resulting in increased levels of uncertainty.
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