Marine science during Covid-19

A large-scale ocean acidification capacity building program for developing countries led by the IAEA learns from the COVID-19 crisis to develop a new strategy

Developing countries are among the most sensitive to climate and other environmental changes. Efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in environmental health is highly dependent on local science. However, developing countries are also facing tremendous practical challenges and scientists often have limited access to laboratories and equipment.

This is particularly true in the field of ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is the ongoing increase in ocean acidity resulting from the anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since the beginning of the industrial era. The potential impacts to marine ecosystems and associated services have resulted in ocean acidification becoming one of the targets for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG target 14.3 aims at “Minimizing and addressing the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels”.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC) is working with international partners to promote the development and implementation of best practices for ocean acidification research. Since 2012, the OA-ICC has supported and organized 29 training courses and workshops on ocean acidification with more than 460 participants from around the world. The OA-ICC works to raise awareness around ocean acidification among stakeholders and inform the global community about the role that nuclear and isotopic techniques can play in assessing its impacts.

We quickly realized the challenge of training scientists in developing countries as complex techniques and methodologies are often required in ocean acidification science. Our evaluation showed that many institutions are lacking the most basic laboratory infrastructure”, explained Ashley Bantelman, lead project officer for the OA-ICC.

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ability of researchers to generate new science, particularly in the field of ocean acidification, which put many marine scientists in industrialized countries in situations similar to those of colleagues in developing countries.

Sam Dupont, Senior Lecturer at the University of Gothenburg and IAEA expert, explains “in 2020, with colleagues from all around the world, we had planned a joint experiment to test a theoretical idea we had published in 2017 in Nature Ecology and Evolution. But without being able to travel, we had no way to conduct those experiments, so we decided to test our idea using existing data in the literature”.

This exercise led to a new article published in Nature Climate Change and has provided new ways to understand the sensitivities of marine species to ocean acidification. The article highlights the importance of combining field chemical monitoring and biological studies. It also demonstrates that it is possible to create new knowledge from the resources already available.

At the IAEA OA-ICC, we have created an ocean acidification bibliographic database as well as a data compilation on the biological response to ocean acidification that can be used by scientists lacking experimental facilities to test their ideas and hypotheses”, says Florence Descroix-Comanducci, Director of the IAEA Environment Laboratories.

A new generation of training focusing on this approach will be organized by the IAEA OA-ICC in 2022.

Reference: Vargas C. A., Cuevas L. A., Broitman B. R., San Martin V. A., Lagos N. A., Gaitán-Espitia J. D. & Dupont S., in press. Upper environmental pCO2 drives sensitivity to ocean acidification in marine invertebratesNature Climate Change.

OA-ICC, 10 February 2022. Press release.

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