New Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network brings multi-national approach

Ocean acidification is occurring because the world’s oceans are absorbing increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, leading to lower seawater pH and greater acidity. Scientists and policymakers have recognized the need for coordinated, worldwide information about the status of ocean acidification and its ecological impacts. The importance of obtaining such measurements has been endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly, and by many governmental and non-governmental bodies who have assisted the scientific community in developing the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON).

During 2012-3, more than 100 participants from more than 30 nations took part in developing and designing GOA-ON through two international workshops. An active international Executive Council has continued its development. Here, we describe major elements of the GOA-ON Requirements and Governance Plan (Figure 1) which emerged from the workshops, and we cast a broad invitation for wider participation in GOA-ON.

The goals of GOA-ON are to use a collaborative global approach to: 1) measure the status and progress of ocean acidification in open-ocean, coastal, and estuarine environments; 2) understand how ocean acidification affects marine ecosystems; and 3) provide the data necessary to create forecast tools for ocean acidification and its effects. These goals and the nature of ocean acidification itself require that the approach be global.

The GOA-ON Plan identifies ocean acidification as a global issue with local effects. Local effects such as reduced coral growth and decreased shellfish settlement cannot be understood or predicted outside of their global context. In turn, the global condition cannot be truly assessed without including the mosaic of local conditions, which can vary substantially. Coastal pH and carbon conditions can differ from those in the open ocean because of varying local processes such as upwelling, eutrophication and river inputs that can contribute to the signal. GOA-ON observations are designed to span these scales in order to achieve the network’s goals.

Why is a Global Approach to Ocean Acidification Observing needed?

  • Ocean acidification processes are occurring at global scales; therefore, it is critical to observe ocean acidification on global scales in order to understand the processes controlling its expression correctly.
  • Only data coverage at scales that can nest local observations within the global context will lead to the understanding required to develop predictive skills and early-warning forecast systems.
  • An effective response to ocean acidification requires information based on comparable and consistent data, and reliable forecast products that can be used to inform policymakers and the public worldwide about ocean acidification and its effects on ecosystem health.

While national observational ocean acidification programs now exist or are being developed, their value can be greatly enhanced when brought together at global and linked regional levels. GOA-ON achieves this by building on and integrating existing observing assets including hydrographic surveys, time-series stations, floats and gliders, and volunteer observing ships throughout the world’s oceans and coasts; identifying gaps where capacity must be built; and working to fill these gaps within the international community.

Observations and Modeling Will Inform Science and Policy

A well-coordinated, multidisciplinary and multi-national approach to ocean acidification observations and modeling will provide authoritative evidence to policymakers on fundamental changes to marine ecosystems occurring from pole to equator, and from estuaries to ocean depths. The collation and analysis of global-scale datasets documenting chemical changes and associated biological responses will greatly increase understanding of the processes involved, allowing us to firmly establish impacts attributable to ocean acidification, assess the importance of associated climate change feedbacks, and improve the reliability of projections of future biogeochemical and ecological conditions and their societal consequences. (…)

Jan Newton, Libby Jewett & Phil Williamson, Earthzine, 1 June 2015. Article.


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