Archive for March 15th, 2012

Discussion session for the forthcoming SOLAS open science conference in May 2012

Solas Open Science Conference
Washington State, USA
7th-10th May 2012

The discussion session title is: “How to detect and monitor potential ocean acidification large-scale impacts – what is needed today?

Though we know much more details about potential consequences of ocean acidification for the marine environment today than 5 years ago, it is still difficult to identify related impacts on the large scale. Present international biogeochemical sampling programmes may not be ideally designed to provide the appropriate information for such an impact assessment. What may these large scale impacts be, at which time frame would they emerge, and which variables would we need to measure and simulate in order to confirm/reject postulated consequences of ocean acidification? Which variables have to be measured now systematically and through which kind of spatio-temporal data coverage in order to determine ocean acidification impacts by re-occupations of sampling locations in one, two, or three decades from now (legacy data sets)? What are the best early warning indicators for dangerous ocean acidification impacts (sustainability link)?

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Observed trends of anthropogenic acidification in North Atlantic water masses

The lack of observational pH data has made difficult assessing recent rates of ocean acidification, particularly in the high latitudes. Here we present a time series of high-quality carbon system measurements in the North Atlantic, comprising fourteen cruises spanning over 27 yr (1981–2008) and covering important water mass formation areas like the Irminger and Iceland basins. We provide direct quantification of anthropogenic acidification rates in upper and intermediate North Atlantic waters by removing the natural variability of pH from the observations. Bottle data were normalised to basin-average conditions using climatological data and further condensed into averages per water mass and year to examine the temporal trends. The highest acidification rates of all inspected water masses were associated with surface waters in the Irminger Sea (−0.0018 ± 0.0001 yr−1) and the Iceland Basin (−0.0012 ± 0.0002 yr−1) and, unexpectedly, with Labrador Seawater (LSW) which experienced an unprecedented pH drop of −0.0015 ± 0.001 yr−1. The latter stems from the formation by deep convection and the rapid propagation in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre of this well-ventilated water mass. The high concentrations of anthropogenic CO2 are effectively transported from the surface into intermediate waters faster than via downward diffusion, thus accelerating the acidification rates of LSW. An extrapolation of the observed lineal trends of acidification suggests that the pH of LSW could drop 0.45 units with respect to pre-industrial levels by the time atmospheric CO2 concentrations double the present ones.

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Ocean acidification: another problem with CO₂ emissions

We tend to measure time by the span of a human life, making a century seem like an era and a millennium a mega-stretch of time. In this perspective, a million years is an eternity. So it can be revealing to consider our place in geologic history measured in hundreds of millions of years.

This is what a group of researchers from the United States and four other countries did recently. They reviewed existing evidence on the impact of changes in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO₂), the main global warming gas, from decades of research on fossilized remains and other evidence from Earth’s geologic record.

Published earlier this month, their findings reinforce warnings from many climate scientists that the world’s oceans, a vital source of fish food protein, may be turning acidic faster today from human CO₂ emissions than they did during four major episodes of animal and plant extinctions in the last 300 million years, when natural surges of CO₂, probably from catastrophic volcanic eruptions or meteor strikes, sent global temperatures soaring.

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On the front lines of ocean acidification

Carin Bondar is a biologist, TV host and science communicator with a PhD in population ecology from the University of British Columbia. She blogs for Scientific American and Huffington Post and has appeared in a scientific capacity on various international television networks. Her writing has been featured online at National Geographic Wild, Jezebel, Forbes, The Guardian, The Daily Beast and the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Find Dr. Bondar online, on twitter or on her Facebook page. Look for her blogs on science topics in the coming weeks on the David Suzuki Foundation website.

In my first piece on ocean acidification, I gave a brief overview of the processes involved and the potential for disastrous consequences to oceanic food webs. I’d like to spend the next few posts discussing some of the diverse ways that scientists are approaching the topic. The bulk of the expected drop in ocean pH hasn’t happened yet, so researchers have had to get creative to design environmentally relevant experiments.

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Data management for the UKOA programme

BODC announces the launch of the data management area for the UK Ocean Acidification (UKOA) research programme.

UKOA is a five-year, £12 million research programme that began in 2010. It involves 27 research institutes in the UK, has close links with other ocean acidification programmes around the world and is co-funded by NERC, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Ocean acidification occurs as carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves in seawater and forms carbonic acid. The oceans absorb roughly half of human CO2 emissions and, if we continue emitting CO2 at the same rate, the acidity (hydrogen ion concentration) of the upper ocean is predicted to increase by about 150% by 2100. This pH change has other important implications for ocean chemistry – and marine life.

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Changing ocean chemistry: the poem

A study published earlier this month indicated that due to manmade emissions of carbon dioxide, the earth’s oceans are tipping toward acidity faster than at any time in the last 300 million years. It made world headlines, and this week the study was the subject of Sunday New York Times editorial, “Changing the Chemistry of Earth’s Oceans.” And now, the poem.

Each week, Katherine Allen, a student of lead author Baerbel Hoenisch, organizes a coffee for the geochemistry division at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where they both work. The emailed invitation customarily comes with a poem about some big news in science that week. Samples: “The Lunar Dynamo“; “Malarial Mechanisms“; “Arsenic … yum!”; “Old Pond Scum.”; and “Story of a Boulder.”  (See them all at the Coffee Poems page.)

In honor of the landmark ocean study, Allen treated of long-term ocean history in nine stanzas of mostly iambic tetrameter. (Note: a double major in English and geochemistry is not required for understanding, but could help with some more subtle turns.)

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Oceans will not survive ‘Business as usual’

Our oceans face a grim outlook in the coming decades. Ocean acidification, loss of marine biodiversity, climate change, pollution and over-exploitation of resources all point to the urgent need for a new paradigm on caring for the earth’s oceans—”business as usual” is simply not an option anymore, experts say.

The extreme rate of acidification – the term used to describe the decrease in ocean pH levels caused by man-made CO2 emissions – has happened before, Carol Turley of Plymouth Marine Laboratory said, a claim that might have been comforting if she hadn’t been referring to the time when dinosaurs died out.

This is a “huge environmental crisis,” she told attendees at an information session at European Parliament this month, addressing challenges and solutions for the world’s oceans months ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, slated to be held in Brazil in June.
Continue reading ‘Oceans will not survive ‘Business as usual’’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book