Communicating ocean acidification: discoveries in, jargon out

Scientists have now studied twin threats to the ocean—acidification and hypoxia—as one. Their findings presage dramatic changes ahead in the sea. Oceanographer Richard Feely of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) presented results of the research at the 2019 Aquatic Sciences Meeting in Puerto Rico. His team looked at the combined effects of the two stressors on marine ecosystems along the West Coast of North America. Oceanographers sampled the ocean for changes in dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide in seawater (Fig. 1). Using data from research cruises, moorings, and profiling floats to measure the changing concentrations of carbon dioxide and dissolved oxygen in seawater, the scientists concluded that dramatic changes in ocean pH lie ahead. Feely discussed ocean acidification changes in a range of latitudes, especially the Arctic, where ocean pH may drop precipitously. “The rapid spread of ocean acidification in the western Arctic has implications for marine life, particularly clams, mussels and tiny sea snails that may have difficulty building or maintaining their shells in increasingly acidified waters,” Feely said. The sea snails called pteropods (Fig. 2) are part of the Arctic food web and important to the diet of salmon and herring. Their decline could affect the larger marine ecosystem, he said. In a separate study, Laura Falkenberg of the Chinese University of Hong Kong discussed the importance of increasing outreach activities on ocean acidification. In the same ASLO conference session, Falkenberg presented her view that scientists often communicate in jargon—language understandable solely by other scientists. What’s needed, she said, is communication geared to nonscientists. Changes in communication style, she argued, may facilitate better communication with nonspecialists.

Callwood V. R., 2019. Communicating ocean acidification: discoveries in, jargon out. Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin 28 (3): 107-108. Article (subscription required).

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