Monitoring ocean acidification from the sky

PML’s research into ocean acidification and its effects spans across scientific disciplines. One study from last year demonstrated how satellite technology can play a vital role in developing this understanding.

As the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere, its pH levels are reducing, in a process known as ocean acidification. This is already putting stress on many marine organisms and will continue to do so as ocean acidification worsens. So it’s crucial for researchers to be able to monitor how the sea’s chemistry is changing, especially in regions that are particularly vulnerable and hard to access, such as the Arctic.

A study released last year, led by PML scientists, looked to the skies as a possible option for studying ocean acidification. The potential of satellite Earth Observation for this had already been highlighted, so they put it into practice using satellite sensor data.

The team looked at how satellite sensors can measure temperature and salinity (the saltiness of the water), which can be used to estimate the chemical makeup of water at the sea’s surface.

These measurements were then assessed against in situ temperature and salinity measurements, like those taken by research buoys out at sea, as well as large climatology datasets, and found that the satellite sensors were a credible solution for monitoring ocean acidification.

Critically, these observations can be made globally throughout the year, offering a comprehensive study of ocean acidification across regions, seasons, years and weather variations.

Dr Helen Findlay, one of the paper’s authors and PML Biological Oceanographer, said: “As the threats of ocean acidification increase, understanding exactly what is going on with the ocean’s chemistry is really important. This research highlighted one way that we can reliably and consistently monitor this.”

Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), 9 September 2020. News article.

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