The Ocean Foundation presents a free online course: ocean acidification in the Pacific Islands

Date: 21 February – 10 April 2022

Registration: There is no cost to attend the online training. For more information and a link to register, please visit: https://oceanfdn.org/register

Overview: Ocean acidification – the unprecedented decline in the ocean’s pH as a result of carbon dioxide emissions – poses significant threats to ecosystems and economies in Pacific Island Countries and Territories. This training course, held remotely via the Ocean Teacher Global Academy’s Ocean Acidification course, will bring together scientists and anyone else who is interested in learning more about the chemistry and effects of ocean acidification on the region. While the first few lessons are designed to introduce participants to the topic of ocean acidification, even attendees familiar with this issue will take away additional information from expert lecturers on chemistry, biology, and actions to address ocean acidification. Live discussion sections via Zoom will allow participants to ask any questions, exchange ideas, develop their own research plan, and build a network with other participants throughout the Pacific Islands. Participants should finish the course with a comprehensive understanding of the implications for ocean acidification and knowledge of how they can contribute to addressing ocean acidification in their own line of work.

Course Topics:

  • Introduction to ocean acidification
  • The ocean carbonate system
  • Data quality and management
  • SDG 14.3.1 Indicator Methodology
  • Laboratory experiments for ocean acidification
  • Chemical observations in the field
  • Biological observations in the field

Intended Participants (from Pacific Island Countries and Territories): Scientists of all career stages and fields, particularly biology and chemistry; governmental representatives with an environmental portfolio; others who want to address ocean acidification

Organizers:

  • The Pacific Community (SPC), Fiji
  • University of the South Pacific (USP), Fiji
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA
  • Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO
  • University of Otago, New Zealand
  • National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, New Zealand
  • University of Hawaii, USA
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Basic training course on ocean acidification

Date: 14 – 19 March 2022

Location: The Kristineberg Marine Research Station, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Deadline for applications: 24 January 2022

Background Information: The course will be based on previous courses on ocean acidification held as part of the activities of the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative project “Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre” (OA-ICC) and partners, and the document “Guide to Best Practices in Ocean Acidification Research and Data Reporting” (see http://www.iaea.org/ocean-acidification/page.php?page=2194).

Purpose: To train early-career scientists and researchers entering the ocean acidification field with the goal to assist them to be able to measure and manipulate seawater carbonate chemistry, set up pertinent experiments, avoid typical pitfalls and ensure comparability with other studies, in a sustainable way.

Expected Outputs: Increased capacity to measure and study ocean acidification and increased networking among scientists working on ocean acidification. Initiate/deepen connections with international networks such as the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON).

Scope and Nature: The training will include lectures in plenary and hands-on experiments in smaller groups (the level will depend on the basic knowledge of the selected participants). Subjects to be covered include: theoretical aspects of ocean acidification from chemistry to society, the characterization of the seawater carbonate chemistry including making TRIS buffer, calibration of pH electrodes, measurement of alkalinity, software packages used to calculate CO2 system parameters, key aspects of ocean acidification experimental design, such as manipulation of seawater chemistry, biological perturbation approaches, and lab- and field-based methods for measuring organism responses to seawater chemistry changes, including nuclear and isotopic techniques.

Participation: The course is open to 15 trainees. Priority will be given to early-career scientists who begin to work in the ocean acidification area. Experts interested in starting ocean acidification studies would be welcome, space permitting. As identified by the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON) European hub, there is a strong need for capacity building in Europe. For this training, priority will be given to European but applications from other countries are welcome.

Qualifications: The participants should have a university degree in marine chemistry, biology, oceanography or a related scientific field, and should be currently involved in or planning to set up ocean acidification studies.

Application Procedure: Selection will be based on merit and interest. Your applications should include:

  • A motivation letter with a short description of your research interest, why you would like to participate, and your plans regarding present and future ocean acidification research (max one A4 page)
  • CV with publication list
  • Applications must be received by not later than 24 January 2022 for the attention of the course organizer, Dr. Sam Dupont (sam.dupont@bioenv.gu.se).
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Micro-CT image gallery visually presenting the effects of ocean warming and acidification on marine gastropod shells

Background

Digitisation of specimens (e.g. zoological, botanical) can provide access to advanced morphological and anatomical information and promote new research opportunities. The micro-CT technology may support the development of “virtual museums” or “virtual laboratories” where digital 3D imaging data are shared widely and freely. There is currently a lack of universal standards concerning the publication and curation of micro-CT datasets.

New information

The aim of the current project was to create a virtual gallery with micro-CT scans of individuals of the marine gastropod Hexaplex trunculus, which were maintained under a combination of increased temperature and low pH conditions, thus simulating future climate change scenarios. The 3D volume-rendering models created were used to visualise the structure properties of the gastropods shells. Finally, the 3D analysis performed on the micro-CT scans was used to investigate potential changes in the shell properties of the gastropods. The derived micro-CT 3D images were annotated with detailed metadata and can be interactively displayed and manipulated using online tools through the micro-CT virtual laboratory, which was developed under the LifeWatchGreece Research Infrastructure for the dissemination of virtual image galleries collection supporting the principles of FAIR data.

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Under pressure: nanoplastics as a further stressor for sub-Antarctic pteropods already tackling ocean acidification

In the Southern Ocean (SO), plastic debris has already been found in waters and sediments. Nanoplastics (<1 μm) are expected to be as pervasive as their larger counterparts, but more harmful to biological systems, being able to enter cells and provoke toxicity. In the SO, (nano)plastic pollution occurs concomitantly with other environmental threats such as ocean acidification (OA), but the potential cumulative impact of these two challenges on SO marine ecosystems is still overlooked. Here the single and combined effects of nanoplastics and OA on the sub-Antarctic pteropod Limacina retroversa are investigated under laboratory conditions, using two surface charged polystyrene nanoparticles (PS NPs) as a proxy for nanoplastics. Sub-Antarctic pteropods are threatened by OA due to the sensitivity of their shells to changes in seawater carbonate chemistry. Short-term exposure (48 h) to PS NPs compromised the ability of pteropods to counteract OA stress, resulting in a negative effect on their survival. Our results highlights the importance of addressing plastic pollution in the context of climate change to identify realistic critical thresholds of SO pteropods.

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Arctic report card 2021: rapid and pronounced warming continues to drive the evolution of the Arctic environment

About Arctic Report Card 2021

The Arctic Report Card (hereafter ‘ARC’) has been issued annually since 2006. It is a timely and peer-reviewed source for clear, reliable, and concise environmental information on the current state of different components of the Arctic environmental system relative to historical records. The ARC is intended for a wide audience interested in the Arctic environment and science, including scientists, teachers, students, decision-makers, policymakers, and the general public.

ARC 2021 contains 14 essay contributions prepared by an international team of 111 authors from 12 different countries. As in previous years, independent peer review of ARC 2021 was organized by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) of the Arctic Council. ARC is classified as a NOAA Technical Report and is archived within the NOAA Library Institutional Repository.

ARC 2021 is organized into three sections: Vital SignsOther Indicators, and Frostbites. The Vital Signs section is for annual updates on seven recurring topics: Surface Air Temperature; Terrestrial Snow Cover; Greenland Ice Sheet; Sea Ice; Sea Surface Temperature; Arctic Ocean Primary Productivity; and Tundra Greenness. The Other Indicators section is for topics that are updated every 2-4 years, many of which have appeared in previous ARCs. The Frostbites section is for reports on new and newsworthy items, describing emerging issues, and addressing topics that relate to long-term observations in the Arctic. People occasionally ask questions such as “How are essay topics selected?” or “Why is topic X not in the Arctic Report Card?” The short answer is that each ARC strives to include some recurrent topics as well as new topics, and thus covers many subjects over a period of years. In this way the ARC achieves a comprehensiveness over time that is not possible in any given year. A complete list of topics covered since the first publication of the ARC is available at the Report Card Archive.

….

Arctic essays: ocean acidifcation

Highlights

  • Recent work has shown that the Arctic Ocean is acidifying faster than the global ocean, but with high spatial variability.
  • A growing body of research indicates that acidification in the Arctic Ocean could have implications for the Arctic ecosystem, including influences on algae, zooplankton, and fish.
  • Cutting-edge tools like computational models are increasing our capacity to understand patterns, trends, and impacts of ocean acidification in the Arctic region.
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Forecasting the future of Dungeness crabs

A Dungeness Crab off the coast of San Francisco Bay. Source: Colleen Proppe, CC BY-NC 2.0. 

The Dungeness crab lives a life of mystery. 

This iconic crab drives one of the most lucrative fisheries on the U.S. West Coast, totaling over $200M in 2017[1]. Yet, the size of the Dungeness fishery mysteriously and dramatically fluctuates from year to year. This fluctuation presents a considerable challenge for resource managers and Dungeness harvesters planning for the year ahead. 

The Impact of Ocean Acidification on Forecasting Dungeness Crab Fisheries.

What if there were a way instead to forecast the size of the Dungeness fishery years in advance? Scientists funded by USC Sea Grant are building the research tools to do just this.

Dr. Nina Bednaršek is setting her sight on the Dungeness crabs of the future by turning to the Dungeness youth of today. The amount of young Dungeness in a given year is a strong predictor of the size of the Dungeness fishery in years to come. Dr. Bednaršek’s team has found that the fate of these young crabs can be predicted by the ocean conditions experienced as they grow[2]

A snapshot of a few young Dungeness crabs that were being observed by Dr. Bednaršek’s team. 

Below the surface, the ocean has a rhythm with a daily and seasonal beat. Every day, young crabs swim incredible distances to eat at the ocean surface at night and escape back to the ocean depths in the morning. The ocean deep provides safety from predators, but at a considerable cost. 

Dr. Bednaršek has found that the deep water off the U.S. West Coast is becoming more acidic as global atmospheric carbon dioxide increases. Her team witnessed how these acidifying waters corrode the shells of young crabs swimming in their midst[3]. Springtime brings a shift in winds that draws this deep, acidic water to the surface, further exacerbating stress on young crabs. Such acidification has made the ocean’s natural rhythms increasingly dangerous for young Dungeness crabs and other marine organisms. 

What can be done to ensure the future of the Dungeness crab fishery? 

Dr. Bednaršek’s team has taken a critical first step by mapping ocean acidification “hotspots” along the U.S. West Coast that present the most risk to young crabs and providing a better understanding of those ocean conditions that support the survival of young Dungeness crabs. With these foundational tools, resource managers have a stronger chance of preserving this iconic species and the livelihoods that depend on them.

There is still work to be done. Continued efforts by Dr. Bednaršek and the USC Sea Grant Program will uncover the most sensitive Dungeness habitats and support longer-term crab forecasts to better inform fishery management. Bit by bit, this research is moving us closer to uncovering the mystery of the iconic Dungeness crab.

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Our iconic giant clams face new threats from warmer waters and acidic oceans – let’s buy them time

Think of the inhabitants of a coral reef, and chances are you’ll think of a giant clam, the largest aquatic mollusc on Earth at up to 250 kilograms and a metre long.

But despite its size and fame, the giant clam (Tridacna gigas) is in trouble. The tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific keep getting hotter due to climate change, and their shells and flesh are in demand. Some are already locally extinct.

Our new research out today has found these iconic megafauna face new threats like the marine heatwaves and acidifying oceans which come with climate change.

Is it game over? Not yet. We believe there are new ways we can manage clams on coral reefs, as well as creating new breeding programs designed to boost resilience to these threats and buy time while we transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s been tried to save our iconic clams?

Despite their reputation as man-eaters – which came from exaggerated 19th century seafaring tales and Pacific Island legends – giant clams are gentle giants.

These charismatic animals are the only invertebrate of the Great 8 species, listed alongside manta rays and clownfish as a must-see for visitors to the Great Barrier Reef. Here, giant clams have been well protected from harvesting and snorkelers and divers can see eight of the world’s twelve giant clam species.

While giant clams are still common in Australian waters, in other areas they have not fared so well due to over-exploitation.

Man looking at giant clams for sale
Giant clams have long been sought for their shells and meat, as in this photo from Madagascar. Now they face new threats. Getty Images

Why are giant clams under renewed threat?

Due to over-exploitation, nine giant clam species have long been included on the Red List of Threatened Species kept by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. All giant clams are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Appendices.

Rapid global climate change and pollution now pose major new threats to giant clams, while the slowly acidifying oceans now affect the range of all giant clam species from the Red Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Ocean acidification makes it harder for animals to build and maintain strong shells, particularly during their early lives.

Like corals, giant clams host symbiotic microalgae, using their photosynthesised energy to reach enormous sizes. But when stressed, these clams can expel their symbiotic microalgae and turn white. They bleach, just like corals.

Key stressors from global change and pollution reduce the range of depth habitats for giant clams. Figure by Sue-Ann Watson and Benjamin Leow.

How can we buy time for giant clams while we decarbonise?

Far and away the best biodiversity conservation strategy is to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible and achieve a stable climate below 1.5℃ warming. Keeping well below 1.5℃ warming will help save giant clams and coral reefs.

While we wait, we need to help clams adapt and endure. In our research, we brought together recent work from lab groups around the world exploring giant clam responses to climate change and pollution.

We now know high temperatures from global warming and marine heatwaves cause the most stress to giant clams in shallow waters, while ocean acidification is causing most impact – whether lethal or just damaging – = on giant clams in deeper waters.

Poor water quality and lower light levels caused by sediment-heavy run-off from cities and farms are also making life harder. This is compounded by the fact that suitable habitat for giant clams is being squeezed by climate change and pollution.

This information is useful, because it can help reef managers plan the best conservation strategies to help giant clams survive rapid climate change, such as by seeking out possible new habitat for giant clams and breeding more resilient individuals.

Aquaculture programs can help by getting baby clams used to slightly warmer, more acidic and darker waters during breeding and rearing before transplanting them out to the wild. They could also offer the clams symbiotic microalgae that are more tolerant to higher temperatures or light levels in early life.

We must also boost the profile of giant clams. If more people recognise them as flagship coral reef species, we will have a better chance of getting them the help they need. By protecting their existing habitat, valuing their tourism potential and deploying citizen science programs, we can make the plight of these remarkable creatures more widely known and buy them time.

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Ocean acidification – a global challenge

Ocean acidification is a global problem with profoundly negative environmental, social and economic consequences for ocean industries, and there is a need to ensure a coordinated governance effort to directly address it.

The oceans are absorbing a relevant part (about 45%) of anthropogenic emissions in the atmosphere, contributing to reducing the concentration CO2. However, the dissolution of CO2 in the ocean causes it to become more acidic, by decreasing its pH, leading to what is known as Ocean Acidification. Even if we manage to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, this acidification will still proceed for hundreds of years, exposing marine organisms that have a carbonate structure – including for example corals, echinoderms, commercial shellfish, and some algae – to conditions they have never before experienced or had to adapt to during their evolutionary history. Furthermore, since acidification is a chemical process able to alter many biochemical processes, other marine organisms can also be affected, through changes in biodiversity and trophic interactions.  

The impact Ocean Acidification will have on biological, biogeochemical and ecological components of the oceans, and the consequences of this on not only the environment – but in turn also on the socio-ecological system and the human dimensions are only partially known – but could potentially be very dramatic. Direct and indirect impacts may affect many goods and services provided by marine ecosystems. Industries affected are those depending on these services from the Ocean, such as the shellfish aquaculture industry, fisheries, and tourism sector. In addition, coastline protection could be affected through a reduction of rocky substrata which constitute a natural defence, and it could also affect natural climate regulation through an alteration of the fluxes of sequestration of carbon because of the changes in the microalgae sedimentation. The list goes on – but most importantly – and affecting all of this and more – is the dramatic loss of biodiversity that could be the result.  

In terms of governance, however, Ocean Acidification on its own is not a focus area, though it has not gone by unnoticed in official agreements. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets the reduction of ocean acidification specifically with Target number 14.3 and the climate change regime is a natural forum within which to reach an agreement or a road map for mitigating ocean acidification. The latter is especially important in that this regime already provides funding mechanisms – but concrete actions for integration into the UNFCCC are still lacking. However, through the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) agreed upon with the Paris Agreement, there could be a possibility of integrating ocean acidification as an indicator at the national level for example. Ocean Acidification is also recognized in the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), where it is specifically recognized as a threat to accelerated biodiversity loss of marine species. From a governance perspective, though, we need to see more specific efforts that enables the global community to steer its mitigation efforts of Ocean Acidification, and better understand the nature of the risks for both industry and biodiversity in local, regional and international waters.  

One of the challenges we see, however, with delinking ocean acidification from the climate question, however, is in its complexity. How do you communicate the importance of ocean acidification, when it is a topic that is so broad and distanced from the majority of stakeholders?

We discuss this topic in this article.

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Thinking pink: investigating the impacts of ocean acidification and warming on larval Oregon pink shrimp

Date: 14 December 2021

Time: 05:30 PM Pacific Time (PT)

Location: online

Organizer: The Cape Perpetua Collaborative 

Register here >>

The Oregon pink shrimp (Pandalus jordani) fishery is Oregon’s second most profitable fishery. This fishery was also the first shrimp fishery in the world to be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Despite its economic value, not much research has been performed on this species. To better understand Oregon pink shrimp physiology and possible responses of this species to future ocean conditions, we exposed larval P. jordani to different combinations of projected ocean acidification and warming and measured changes in growth and respiration

Young Scientist Webinar Series 2021-2022

The Cape Perpetua Collaborative is hosting a Young Scientist Webinar Series featuring graduate students and postdocs sharing their ocean research. This series will take place October – April on the second Tuesday of the Month at 5:30pm.

About the Presenter

Michelle Baotran Nguyen is a first-generation Vietnamese American born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She received her B.S. from Texas A&M University at Galveston, where she majored in marine biology and minored in oceanography and SCUBA diving. During college, Michelle realized her passion for invertebrate physiology, which led her to pursue her M.S. at Oregon State University. While at OSU, she investigated the impacts of ocean acidification and warming on Oregon pink shrimp larvae. Come 2022, she will be embarking on her next adventure as a Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellow. When Michelle is not in the lab, you can find her baking, running, or country western dancing.

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Kristineberg talks: why you should care about ocean acidification and what you can do about it?

Date: 24 January 2022

Time: 10:00 – 10:30

Location: online

Organizer: Kristineberg marine research station, the University of Gothenburg

Link to live stream >>

Ocean acidification is another consequence of our carbon dioxide emissions. It is an invisible threat but with real consequences for the ocean but also for us. This talk will answer a few questions: What is ocean acidification? How will ocean acidification affect the ocean? How is ocean acidification affecting things we care about? How do we know? What can we do about it? And finally, what can YOU do about it?

Speaker
Sam Dupont is a marine biologist working on the effect of human impacts on marine life. He is also working on the development of innovative science communication and education strategies to tackle global challenges. The third aspect of his work aims at building capacities for marine science in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Kristineberg Talks is a series of lectures where researchers at the station talk about their research and the sea in an easily accessible and exciting way. The lectures are aimed at anyone who is interested in the sea, its organisms and the latest research.

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The short and long-term implications of warming and increased sea water pCO2 on the physiological response of a temperate neogastropod species

Global average temperatures and seawater pCO2 have rapidly increased due to the oceanic uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide producing severe consequences for a broad range of species. The impacts on marine ectotherms have been largely reported at short-term scales (i.e. from days to weeks); however, the prolonged effects on long-term processes such as reproduction have received little attention. The gastropod Ocenebra erinaceus is a key predator structuring communities on rocky shores of the French and UK coasts. Even though rocky shore species are regarded as being very tolerant to changes in temperature and pH, many of them are living near their upper tolerance limits, making them susceptible to rapid environmental changes. Here, we report that future mean seawater conditions (RCP8.5, + 3 °C and ~ 900 μatm CO2) do not significantly affect the physiology and molecular response of O. erinaceus adults after 132 days. During the first 50 days, there was a slight impact on oxygen consumption rates and body weight; however, after 95 days of exposure, gastropods fully acclimated to the experimental condition. Despite this, reproduction in females exposed to these future seawater conditions ceased after long-term exposure (~ 10 months). Therefore, in the short-term, O. erinaceus appear to be capable of full compensation; however, in the long-term, they fail to invest in reproduction. We conclude studies should be based on combined results from both short- and long-term effects, to present realistic projections of the ecological consequences of climate warming.

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Ocean alkalinity enhancement – avoiding runaway CaCO3 precipitation during quick and hydrated lime dissolution

Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement (OAE) has been proposed as a method to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and to counteract ocean acidification. It involves the dissolution of alkaline minerals such as quick lime, CaO, and hydrated lime, Ca(OH)2. However, a critical knowledge gap exists regarding their dissolution in natural seawater. Particularly, how much can be dissolved before secondary precipitation of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) occurs is yet to be established. Secondary precipitation should be avoided as it reduces the atmospheric CO2 uptake potential of OAE. Here we show that both CaO and Ca(OH)2 powders (> 63 µm of diameter) dissolved in seawater within a few hours. However, CaCO3 precipitation, in the form of aragonite, occurred at a saturation (ΩAr) threshold of about 5. This limit is much lower than what would be expected for typical pseudo-homogeneous precipitation in the presence of colloids and organic materials. Secondary precipitation at unexpectedly low ΩAr was the result of so-called heterogeneous precipitation onto mineral phases, most likely onto CaO and Ca(OH)2 prior to full dissolution. Most importantly, this led to runaway CaCO3 precipitation by which significantly more alkalinity (TA) was removed than initially added, until ΩAr reached levels below 2. Such runaway precipitation would reduce the CO2 uptake efficiency from about 0.8 moles of CO2 per mole of TA down to only 0.1 mole of CO2 per mole of TA. Runaway precipitation appears to be avoidable by dilution below the critical ΩAr threshold of 5, ideally within hours of the addition to minimise initial CaCO3 precipitation. Finally, model considerations suggest that for the same ΩAr threshold, the amount of TA that can be added to seawater would be more than three times higher at 5 °C than at 30 °C, and that equilibration to atmospheric CO2 levels during mineral dissolution would further increase it by a factor of ~6 and ~3 respectively.

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COP26: reflections on human rights at the ocean-climate nexus

After COP25 in Madrid in 2019 was labelled the “Blue COP”, expectations were high for COP26 to embed the ocean into future climate-related action at all levels. Scientific evidence has been mounting on how the health of the ocean is significantly impacted by climate change, which also multiplies the impacts of other threats (over-exploitation and pollution). On the other hand, the ocean absorbs over a quarter of global carbon dioxide. Accordingly, the expression “ocean-climate nexus” refers both to the negative impacts of climate change on the ocean’s health, as well as the role of the ocean in global climate regulation. The lack of integrated approaches to this nexus impedes effective protection of the marine environment and leaves out a crucial area of international cooperation and national action for climate mitigation and adaptation. The motto “ocean action is climate action” was thus often repeated on the side-lines of COP26.

The human rights implications of ocean acidification

As the ocean is already negatively impacted in so many ways by climate change, general progress at COP26 on climate change mitigation is crucial for the ocean and ocean-dependent human rights. The Glasgow Climate Pact made an explicit reference to the need for “limiting global warming to 1.5°C, which requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including global carbon dioxide by 45% by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.”

The explicit reference to carbon dioxide is very important to curb ocean acidification, which arises from excess CO2 emissions dissolving in sea water. Since 1980, the ocean has absorbed between 20–30% of COreleased into the atmosphere resulting in further acidification. While ocean acidification and climate change are distinct issues, they share a common cause in CO2 emissions. As a result, the fight against ocean acidification can benefit from climate change mitigation efforts.

Ocean acidification has numerous impacts on marine ecosystems, including limiting the ability of species to form shells and skeletons. This is particularly problematic for coral reef species, who are unable to form their calcified shell structure which supports rich biodiversity on the reef. The effects of ocean acidification will increase and persist in marine ecosystems for hundreds of years if COemissions continue unabated beyond the agreed 1.5oC temperature goal under the Paris Agreement. Since plankton and coral reefs – key species in marine food chains – are especially vulnerable to ocean acidification, this has a considerable impact on human rights, and particularly on children’s rights. The long-term potential for the ocean to act as a source of food and therefore aid the attainment of the child’s right to health under Article 23(2)(c) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is clearly threatened by ocean acidification. If marine food chains suffer the loss of key species due to ocean acidification, fish species which are valuable for their nutrition content may decline or disappear.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has warned States that a failure to mobilize the maximum available resources to prevent foreseeable harm to human rights caused by climate change constitutes a breach of their obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil all human rights for all. Since climate change and ocean acidification arise from common causes and both pose significant threats to human rights, it can also be argued that States have an obligation to prevent further ocean acidification that can cause foreseeable negative impacts on human rights and need to mobilize maximum available resources to that end. In addition, States’ international obligation to cooperate with one another on climate change matters is also relevant in the context of ocean acidification, including sharing information, transferring technology and building capacity to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of ocean acidification.

Following from the warning by the CESCR, in addressing ocean acidification, we argue that it is imperative that States establish and implement non-discriminatory and non-retrogressive policies and laws. These must include additional measures to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable, such as communities that have a close relationship with corals and marine living resources that are affected by ocean acidification and on which these communities depend for their material needs and cultural life. In addition, we argue that States should support CO2 emission reductions and the creation of marine protected areasthat prevent unjustified, foreseeable infringements of human rights, including those of Indigenous peoples, small-scale fishers, women, children, persons living in poverty, persons with disabilities, older persons, migrants, displaced people, and other potentially at-risk communities, and environmental human rights defenders.

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An ocean of opportunity: exploring the potential risks and rewards of ocean-based solutions to climate change

The ocean is a vast repository for carbon. Over the last century, it has absorbed nearly a third of the carbon dioxide that humans have pumped into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. This carbon ends up dissolved into the water, captured by organisms, folded into coastal sediments, or buried in the deep sea.

How the ocean stores carbon

The surface ocean and the air above it are constantly exchanging gases, trying to reach an equilibrium. When carbon dioxide is more plentiful in the atmosphere than in the surface waters, it diffuses into the ocean. There, physical and biological processes work to pump some of the carbon into deeper waters, making room for more absorption at the surface.

Some dissolved carbon dioxide bonds with molecules weathered from rocks or ancient shells, locking it into a new, complex form that cannot easily escape back into the atmosphere. Other carbon is dragged to the depths by major ocean currents, which pull warm surface waters laden with carbon dioxide toward the poles, where they cool and sink. Once carbon has reached the deep ocean, it can remain there for hundreds to thousands of years.

On the biological side, marine algae play a key role, using dissolved carbon dioxide to conduct photosynthesis. When those phytoplankton and other microorganisms die, they too sink to deeper waters.

carbon cycle
In various forms, carbon is continuously exchanged between Earth’s atmosphere, land, and water—an essential cycle for life and regulating the planet’s climate. Atmospheric carbon dioxide readily dissolves in the ocean’s surface waters, where some of it is taken up by living organisms or sequestered in deep-sea rocks and sediments. (Illustration by Natalie Renier, WHOI Creative, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Just add alkalinity

Over geologic timescales, alkaline molecules weathered from rocks or released by the dissolving shells of long-dead microorganisms help the ocean lock away a significant amount of carbon and play an important role in regulating the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere. But since we don’t have millions of years to address climate change, some scientists are investigating the possibility of boosting the ocean’s alkalinity to mimic the effects of rock weathering over a much shorter time scale.

Continue reading ‘An ocean of opportunity: exploring the potential risks and rewards of ocean-based solutions to climate change’

Shedding light on ocean acidification (text & video)

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide have not just contributed to climate change—they’re also responsible for ocean acidification. In this experiment, students will explore the science behind this destructive phenomenon by using a Go Direct® pH Sensor and Vernier Graphical Analysis™ to measure changes in pH and study the effect of dissolved CO2 on the pH of water. Join Colleen McDaniel, our biology and environmental science educational technology specialist, to learn more about ocean acidification and the effects it has on the ecosystem.

Continue reading ‘Shedding light on ocean acidification (text & video)’

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