Book review: Guide to best practices for ocean acidification research and data reporting

Ulf Riebesell, Victoria J. Fabry, Lina Hansson, and Jean-Pierre Gattuso (Eds.) 2010. Guide to Best Practices for Ocean Acidification Research and Data Reporting. European Commission, Publications Office of the European Union. ISBN 97892-79-11118-1 260 pp.

Reviewed by Joan A. Kleypas, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, kleypas@ucar. edu

In the 1990s, the impact of rising atmospheric CO2 on ocean chemistry was barely a topic within the oceanographic research community (and indeed had not yet been popularized with the label “ocean acidification”). I recall asking University of Chicago Professor David Archer for his Fortran code to calculate the carbon system in seawater, and then asking him to recommend a comprehensive reference to understand the chemistry behind the formulas. “Read Millero’s Chemical Oceanography,” Archer said “… many times.” While Millero’s classic text is easily read by marine chemists, it is not a quick read for a non-chemist, and although I became very fond of the text, I did realize the need for Archer’s “many times” corollary.

Most scientists wishing to study ocean acidification or its impacts on marine life and ocean biogeochemistry have similarly found themselves on a steep learning curve. To precisely measure the carbon system in seawater, set up CO2 perturbation experiments, or measure biological processes, required working with the few available experts, a need that inspired many strong cross-lab collaborations that have produced not only landmark studies but also a strong camaraderie among researchers. Even so, this approach was neither efficient nor sufficient for the growing number of investigators moving into ocean acidification research, and the research community called repeatedly for the need to standardize methods in measurements and experimental approaches. In 2008, the European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) took up this charge and invited some 40 experts in marine carbon chemistry, experimentation, modeling, and data management to Kiel, Germany, to discuss the best methodologies for ocean acidification research. This subject of this review: “Best Practices in Ocean Acidification Research and Data Reporting” is a high-quality product of that meeting.

The editors of “Best Practices” assembled an international team of 49 authors from 13 countries, and organized the guide into 15 sections grouped into four parts or major topics: 1) seawater carbonate chemistry, 2) experimental design of perturbation experiments, 3) measurements of CO2-sensitive processes, and 4) data reporting and data usage. Each section more or less follows a common format, beginning with a description of approaches and methodologies, describing the strengths and weaknesses and potential pitfalls, providing suggestions for improvement as well as for data reporting, and ending with recommendations for standards and guidelines. The technical level is appropriate for both expert and non-experts in the topic, and it is well referenced for investigators who wish to dig deeper.

Part 1 opens with an overview of the CO2 system in seawater and its determination by Andrew Dickson, which is largely a summation of a separate in-depth guide on ocean CO2 measurements (Dickson et al. 2007). This is followed by a very practical section of the multiple techniques and considerations for manipulating the CO2 system in various experimental setups.

Parts 2 and 3, with a total of 11 sections, form the bulk of the report and bring together some welcome guidance toward designing CO2 perturbation experiments in microcosms, mesocosms and in the field; and for measuring a suite of responses mostly physiological (acid-base regulation, metabolism, calcification rates) but also biogeochemical (organic matter production and export). I found these sections to be particularly valuable gap-fillers, with information useful not only to those who will be tackling such research, but also to those who serve as reviewers of ocean acidification proposals and manuscripts.

Part 2 opens with advice on how to select target CO2 concentrations in designing manipulation experiments (note to reader: avoid unrealistically high values!). Section 4 follows as a reminder of the importance of designing experiments to ensure statistical relevance and maximize statistical power. While not a substitute for rigid texts on statistical methods, it cuts to the chase in terms of the most important aspects of statistical design. Every investigator should read this section even if you feel your experiments are statistically sound. The remaining sections provide very practical guidance on experimental manipulations from batch cultures through mesocosm studies, and ends with a section on in situ experiments and field measurements in natural systems. These sections build on the considerable experience of experts who have perfected these designs, and will undoubtedly prevent a lot of headaches for those setting up their own experiments.

Part 3 addresses measurements of CO2-sensitive processes. Hans Otto Pörtner is lead author on the first two sections, which cover an abundance of technical information within the large field of acid-base regulation, metabolic regulation, and measuring the metabolic responses of organisms to ocean acidification. These two sections are the most extensive of the guide, and necessarily so as researchers move from measuring the initial responses of organisms in a high-CO2 ocean to understanding the mechanisms behind those responses. Even those who never plan to measure physiological processes in organisms will benefit from reading Part 3 as it demonstrates the complexity of the interactions that occur between seawater and the many biological membranes that enclose the body fluids of organisms. The remaining sections in Part 3 cover the many methodologies of calcification measurements within both planktonic and benthic organisms and ecosystems, as well as methodologies for measuring the production of organic matter in the surface ocean and its export to the deeper ocean realms.

Part 4 addresses data issues and includes a section on model data as well as data sharing. While data concerns always seem to be delegated to the last-but-not-least sections of any science guide, I would like to emphasize the “not-least” of these two sections. Data reporting is an increasingly important issue, and defining the best practices for both model and observed data are well laid out in these two sections.

In summary, this guide is a real service to the community. It will enable investigators to design their research faster and smarter, which ultimately will speed up the availability of quality research on this important topic. While many recommendations in this text may seem obvious or logical, many are not, and indeed being aware of the details presented in these sections will allow the investigator to avoid time-consuming mistakes. This volume should be a required reference for anyone considering ocean acidification research.

Of course, the guide is not perfect. There are some annoying errors, particularly in a couple of the tables. The captions for some of the figures are also inadequate to explain figure details, and the reader will need to refer to the original literature for more information. However, each section includes a solid list of references that allows the researcher to go more deeply into a topic. The field is changing rapidly and we can expect to see updates to this volume. The volume does not address, for example, techniques for obtaining samples for the “-OMICS fields of research (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, etc.). These techniques are becoming increasingly common in ocean acidification research, and for those who wish to collaborate with others in these rapidly advancing fields, perhaps the next edition will add a new section that overviews how these techniques can be used in ocean acidification, as well as sample collection and preservation for such analyses.

The guide is available free of charge in searchable pdf format from the EPOCA website ( Individual sections can be downloaded separately, but I recommend downloading the complete guide. Printed versions are also available on thick paper stock (Contact Lina Hansson, hansson@obs-vlfr. fr, at the EPOCA project office to obtain printed copies of the guide). The text and format are easy on the eyes, and navigating is made easier with color-coded banners for each part.


Millero, F. J. (1996) Chemical Oceanography – 2nd ed., CRC Press L. L. C., Boca Raton, FL, 469 pp.

Kleypas, J., 2010. Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin, 19(4): 92-93. Book review.

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