Global research on the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) on the ocean will get a boost as the US Government announced a further $433,000 to support the IAEA Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC).
The announcement comes just before the fourth OA-ICC workshop on ocean acidification — held in cooperation with the Scientific Centre of Monaco — on bridging the gap between ocean acidification impacts and economic valuation. Prince Albert II of Monaco, along with high level policymakers and scientists will participate in the event ‘From Sciences to Solutions: Ocean acidification impacts on ecosystem services — Case studies on coral reefs’.
“Dealing with ocean acidification requires scientific collaboration to both understand and address it. Support from countries such as the US is key to furthering cooperation toward mitigating the impact of ocean acidification on the marine environment and coastal communities.”
“Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean leads to a global problem called ocean acidification,” said David Osborn, Director of the IAEA Environment Laboratories, which operate the OA-ICC. The ocean absorbs a quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted to the atmosphere each year as a result of human activities. This leads to a series of changes to seawater chemistry, including a shift towards increased acidity, a process known as ocean acidification (see The Science box).
“Dealing with ocean acidification requires scientific collaboration to both understand and address it,” Osborn said. “Support from countries such as the US is key to furthering cooperation toward mitigating the impact of ocean acidification on the marine environment and coastal communities.”
The United States is proud to support the continuation of the OA-ICC’s important work, said Nicole Shampaine, Chargé d’Affaires at the US Mission to International Organizations in Vienna. “The ocean and its resources play a vital role in global security and prosperity, not to mention US commercial fisheries and tourism industries. We all benefit from learning more about the impact of ocean acidification, so we can better counter its negative consequences.”
While ocean acidification is still relatively unknown by the general public, it has emerged as one of the major global threats to marine organisms, ecosystems, and resources in the 21st century. Ocean acidity has increased by about 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and changes are occurring 100 times faster than at any moment in the last 55 million years. This could have dramatic socio-economic consequences, particularly for people dependent on marine resources, like those in coastal communities.
“Ocean acidification is sometimes referred to as the ‘other CO2 problem’, with climate change being the other,” said Osborn. “While its effects are global, its impact on specific species, ecosystems and industries will differ from location to location. This is why scientists around the world have to work together.”
The OA-ICC serves as a global hub for scientific collaboration on ocean acidification. It facilitates international research activities with the wider ocean acidification research community and other stakeholders toward a fact-based understanding of the potential impacts of ocean acidification. This involves promoting standardized methods and best practices; coordinating international data management, access and sharing; training scientists, particularly from low- and middle-income countries; and communicating scientific findings to non-scientists.
“By sharing findings and facilitating the global discussion on ocean acidification, the OA-ICC helps increase knowledge and bring stakeholders together” said Osborn. “It helps bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers.”
Scientific collaboration for sustainable development
Many countries draw on support from the OA-ICC to monitor and respond to ocean acidification as part of their work to achieve Goal 14 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Target three of this goal specifically focuses on tackling ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.
Since its launch in 2013, the OA-ICC and its international partners have organized over 25 technical meetings and training courses for participants from more than 80 countries and supported more than 60 scientists from developing countries in presenting at and connecting with peers at key international conferences. It has also made key online resources available to the international research community and continues to be a major source for the latest research and news on ocean acidification, with its news stream recently reaching over one million views.
The US Government announced its support during the Our Ocean Conference held in Malta last week. This ongoing support from the United States, which has totalled around two million euros since 2010, is provided through the IAEA’s Peaceful Uses Initiative (PUI). Several other countries have also provided financial and in-kind support to the centre.
Ocean acidification comprises a series of changes to seawater chemistry, such as a decrease in seawater pH, reflecting a shift towards increased acidity. These changes are measurable: average ocean pH levels have decreased by 0.11pH units since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, which is equivalent to an increase in acidity of roughly 30%.
While it is hard to estimate the full impact that ocean acidification will have on marine life, what is known is that, below a certain pH level and a corresponding carbonate concentration, conditions become corrosive to calcium carbonate, a key ingredient used by many organisms to build shells and skeletons. This can hinder their ability to grow shells and bones, making them fragile and lowering their chances of survival. Some corals, tiny sea snails (pteropods), clams and mussels (bivalve molluscs) and calcifying phytoplankton seem to be particularly sensitive to changes in seawater chemistry.