Scientists dive in Antarctica’s ice-covered waters to measure ocean acidity

divingScientific equipment has been lowered through the Antarctic sea ice onto the sea floor near Australia’s Casey station as part of a world-first experiment on ocean acidification. A team of team of scientists, engineers and divers have drilled through 2.6 metres of polar sea ice and braved sub-zero waters as part of a world-first experiment on ocean acidification.

The researchers, from the Australian Antarctic Division, lowered an intricate series of pipes, tubes and thrusters to the sea floor in O’Brien Bay, Antarctica, in a bid to study carbon dioxide emissions. They wore wore multiple layers of clothes under dry suits to withstand the sub-zero temperatures, close to 14 metres beneath the ice.

The experiment aims to measure the impact of carbon dioxide emssions on marine life on the polar sea floor.

Bacteria, starfish, plankton and other organisms live on the seabed of O’Brien Bay, just south of the Australian-run Casey Station.

The world’s oceans absorb carbon dioxide, which renders them more acidic. Colder water absorbs carbon dioxide even quicker, meaning the polar oceans could become acidic at a faster rate.

Under the “business as usual” scenario for carbon emissions, acidification in the world’s oceans will rise 250 per cent this century.

Acidification of polar waters occurs at twice the rate of tropical waters.

Project leader Doctor Jonny Stark said the change in acidification would be too rapid for some animal life to be able to adapt.

He said the PH balance in the world’s oceans had changed before, but those changes occurred over millions of years.

“Once it changes it takes a very long time to change back,” Dr Stark said.

“Hundreds-of-thousands of years.

“We’re talking about a change in [less than] 100 years.”

To conduct the world’s first polar ocean acidification experiment, the Australian Antarctic Division started setting up the equipment in mid-November.

The experiment started at the end of December, after the team placed four containers on the floor of O’Brien Bay.

The containers will use long tubes to suck in water, which will contain the marine life, food and the marine life’s normal water.

“The only thing that’s changed is the PH,” Dr Stark said.

Two of those containers will add water with a greater PH level, while two will act as controls with no added PH.

“The equipment will now run continuously for eight weeks and we will focus on the areas where we expect to see the most change over this time frame,” Dr Stark said.

Jason Thomas, SBS, 9 January 2015. Article.

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