Professor’s pioneering research on effects of ocean acidification garners global attention and third science grant

Dr. Mark Green knows the tiniest marine organisms can tell us a lot. As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have climbed steadily – making the ocean more acidic in the process – he was the first scientist to prove tiny juvenile clams were dying primarily because their shells were dissolving in less alkaline conditions. Now, the National Science Foundation has honored his pioneering contributions by awarding the marine science professor a third grant to continue his research related to the effects of ocean acidification on clams.

Dr. Mark Green’s research conducted in an estuary of the Gulf of Maine will have applications in estuaries throughout the world. His work has attracted media attention because of its important findings on how ocean acidification can dissolve the carbonate shell of tiny marine animals. In addition to being published in scholarly journals, Green was recently featured in International Innovation, a globally distributed quarterly report that highlights leading researchers and considers the major scientific questions facing the world today.

Over the next three years of the $500,000 grant, Green will turn his focus on microscopic larval clams in several Maine estuaries, where changes in acidification happen much faster. “It’s the best environment to study the effects of acid burdens that are caused by increased carbon dioxide from atmospheric pollution and groundwater runoff,” says Green. “Estuaries are less buffered to acid than the open ocean, but acidification research has not focused there until now.”

Green’s research has garnered attention from many corners, both academic and in the wider press. His work showed that in more acidic sediments, the shells of juvenile clams dissolve, leading to massive die off of the young. It proved – contrary to scientific opinion at the time – that predation was not the primary factor responsible for the die offs, but rather was a result of an underlying condition in the sediments where young clams burrow.

Through an experiment that manipulated the pH of sediment, he also discovered some juvenile clams avoid burrowing in mud that is too acidic, leaving them exposed to predators.

Funding for student researchers has been part of the $1.2 million that Mark Green has received from the National Science Foundation over the last 10 years. The newest grant will allow him to hire a full-time lab technician and several part-time student research assistants.

“The data’s really cool,” he says excitedly, graphing a curve that perfectly shows the negative correlation between acidic sediment and burrowing. “They would rather risk predation than burrow there,” he notes.

Charmaine Daniels, Saint Joseph’s magazine, Spring 2010. Full article and radio.

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