Maine Oceanographers study climate change in the South Atlantic

Oceanographers from Maine are among a team of 23 scientists sailing across the South Atlantic studying the effects of climate change on marine life and future ability of the ocean to sustain life.

Leading the 5-week expedition is Dr. Barney Balch, from the Bigelow Ocean Sciences Lab in West Boothbay, Maine. In the challenging, remote and often turbulent southern oceans, the team is collecting samples and conducting experiments aboard the research vessel Melville, as it sails the 7,000 miles from Chile to Cape Town, South Africa, where it’s due to arrive in 2 weeks time.

Dr Balch spoke to us recenly via satellite phone, having just competed a night’s work studying samples.

Scientists, he explains, already know that as carbon dioxide builds in the atmosphere and is absorbed into the ocean, seawater is becoming more acidic. What’s not yet known is the full effect this is having on ocean life.

One result is that it’s dissolving the shells of the phytoplankton that form that large belt Dr Balch is talking about – known as the Great Southern Belt it’s a huge annual plankton bloom in the Southern Hemisphere.

Dr Barney Balch speaking earlier from a research vessel near Antarctica. He says the findings from the expedition won’t be fully known until all the samples have been fully analyzed and written up, sometime next year.

To hear more from Dr. Balch, and check out the expedition’s daily blog: Information is online at and in real-time blogs from the ship by Bigelow staff and Colby College

Tom Porter, The Maine Public Broadcasting Network, 2 February 2011. Article and radio.

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