New lab to predict sea conditions

Scientists have developed “the next best thing to a time machine” to uncover the future of the country’s seas.

Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh said their new laboratory will predict sea conditions in the next hundred years and measure the effects of rising water temperature and ocean acidification.

Dubbed “climate change’s evil twin”, ocean acidification is caused when carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, forming carbonic acid.

The £25,000 laboratory measures the effect of increased levels of carbonic acid on cold water coral around Scotland’s coast over the next 18 months.

Doctor Murray Roberts, director of Heriot-Watt’s centre for marine biodiversity & biotechnology, who is leading the project, said: “If we continue emitting CO2 at the same rate, by 2100 the acidity of the ocean will increase by about 150%, a rate that has not been experienced for at least 400,000 years.

“A huge change like this in the basic chemistry of the ocean is likely to have big implications for ocean life, especially for those organisms like corals which need calcium carbonate to build shells or skeletons.

“That’s what we want to look at and this new lab means that we can take samples of cold-water corals which we have collected off the Scottish coast and see how they fare over an 18-month period in a simulation of what the seas and oceans might be like in 100 years’ time.

“It’s the next best thing to having a time machine and the results will be important to the emerging study of ocean acidification as well as to the future of Scotland’s cold-water coral reefs, which we know are an important support to biodiversity in our seas.”

The project is part of the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme and has been funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as well as Heriot-Watt University.

The Press Association., 8 September 2011. Press release.

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