Ocean acidification – a Norwegian perspective

Worldwide combustion of fossil fuels is responsible for the steady increase of CO2 in both the atmosphere and the oceans. Changes such as global warming and ocean acidification are thus directly linked to Norway’s biggest income earner – the exploitation of oil and gas. In order to gain political momentum for mitigation efforts it is necessary to convince the general public that the benefits are worth the cost. It seems that generally most people in Norway agree that global warming is a threat to the welfare of the world as we know it today. However, many Scandinavians are descendants of the Vikings, with myths and stories from ancient times deeply embedded in their past. In Norse tradition, hell and the end of the world were not associated with heat and flames, but rather with perpetual cold, known as the Fimbul winter. While most Norwegians nowadays understand that a 2˚C average warming is very problematic, intrinsically, the thought of warmer weather is rather appealing.

With increasing acidification of the oceans, opinions may change. Norway’s third largest export is fish. In a healthy ocean properly managed fisheries exploit self-replicating resources that would be expected to be around long after oil and gas resources are depleted. That ocean acidification presents a potentially large disturbance for marine ecosystem structure and functioning, is easier to perceive as a threat than a supposedly small increase in temperature. Since about 2009 there has been an increase in public awareness of the problem of ocean acidification. The official response has included a new monitoring program, and the construction of laboratory facilities dedicated to the study of the biological effects of increasing ocean acidification.

The extent of Norway´s marine resources stretches from the North Sea to the Barents Sea. Since 2009 the carbon chemistry has been monitored by sampling water through the water column along three sections from nearshore to offshore waters. These sections cross the Skagerrak of the Northern North Sea, the Norwegian Sea off Lofoten, and in the Barents Sea opening between northern Norway and Bjørnøya. In addition, surface waters are monitored from commercial vessels between Tromsø and Longyearbyen on Svalbard, and between Oslo and Kiel. One of the research vessels of the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) in Bergen also monitors pCO2 on most of its expeditions. This program is one of the first dedicated national ocean acidification monitoring efforts.

Information about increasing ocean acidification over time is of little value unless we can link ocean carbon chemistry to biological responses through predicted future scenarios. A large number of experiments have used short- or long-term exposure of various marine organisms to simulated future carbon chemistry. Technically, such experiments require facilities with a stable supply of high quality seawater and equipment to manipulate and monitor seawater carbon chemistry. Two biological stations, initially established by IMR in the 1980s to serve the research needs of the aquaculture industry, have been modified for ocean carbon chemistry experiments. The Matre Station is dedicated to the study of large organisms, such as shoals of fish. For example, mackerel and lobsters have been exposed to varying ocean carbon chemistry. The large tanks and number of replicate lines of varying water quality at this facility are one of the best constructions for this kind of research worldwide. The facility still has capacity for more projects and it is hoped that collaborative efforts will enable other scientists from around the world to take advantage of these excellent facilities.

The Austevoll Station is dedicated to plankton studies. A laboratory for ocean acidification research was designed so that four water types are fed into three identical systems. Three replicates of each water type are run simultaneously in each system. The pH of each water type is carefully controlled, and the carbon system of the water is monitored using high precision total alkalinity and total inorganic carbon determination, along with pH measured by spectrophotometry. The main goal is to investigate the effect of ocean acidification on key species in Norwegian waters. These experiments include copepods, krill, and fish larvae. Experiments with phytoplankton are also underway.

Models indicate that impacts of ocean acidification will develop earliest at high latitudes. It is therefore important that research efforts on the effects and magnitude of ocean acidification continue, in order to provide sound advice to policy makers and increase public awareness. However, there is only one way to slow down ocean acidification, and that is through the deceleration of the release of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Børsheim K. Y., 2012. Ocean acidification – a Norwegian perspective. IMBER Newsletter 21, September 2012. Article.

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