Monitoring ocean acidification in the coastal ocean

Erich Rienecker and Brent Jones prepare to launch an underwater glider carrying one of Yui Takeshita’s pH sensors. Image: Yui Takeshita © 2019 MBARI

Over the last 20 years, marine scientists have become increasingly concerned about changes in the acidity or pH of the ocean. About one-third of the carbon dioxide that humans have released into the atmosphere has been taken up by the ocean, causing seawater to become more acidic (lower pH). Ocean acidification has many effects on marine life, especially animals such as corals and shellfish, whose hard skeletons can dissolve if the surrounding seawater becomes too acidic.

MBARI researchers have been at the forefront of research on ocean acidification for decades, with Peter Brewer being one of the first scientists to study the problem in detail, and Ken Johnson developing some of the first pH sensors that work reliably in the deep sea. Marine chemist Yui Takeshita has continued this tradition, developing pH sensors that can work in a wide variety of dynamic environments, including coastal waters, coral reefs, and kelp beds.

Over the last several years, Takeshita has worked with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to show that electronic pH sensors mounted on underwater robots called gliders can measure pH with an accuracy approaching that of standard chemical methods used on board research ships. By demonstrating that gliders can consistently and accurately measure pH over large areas of the ocean, Takeshita’s work could eventually lead to the deployment of a fleet of gliders to monitor ocean acidification off the U.S. west coast and beyond.

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Kim Fulton-Bennett, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, 18 November 2020. Full article.


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