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Case study: building local and regional resilience through the Pacific partnership on ocean acidification, Pacific islands

Credit: Jana Steingaesser, Ministry of Climate,
Oceans & Resilience (MiCORE)

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“The Pacific Partnership on Ocean Acidification (PPOA) is empowering Pacific Island communities to face the challenges posed by ocean acidification. PPOA works directly with stakeholders at all levels, from school children to women’s groups, village leaders and policy-makers. By building Pacific capacity to confront ocean acidification, PPOA supports Pacific communities to monitor their own coastal ocean chemistry, develop national policies to address ocean acidification and apply Pacific traditional ecological knowledge to adapt their coastal ecosystems to become more resilient to the threat of ocean acidification.”

Dr Duncan McIntosh, PPOA Project Manager at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme


The Pacific Partnership on Ocean Acidification (PPOA) is a four-year collaborative project between the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme SPREP, the University of the South Pacific (USP) and the Pacific Community (SPC) with the goal of building resilience to ocean acidification in the Pacific Islands. The project’s pilot sites are in Fiji, Kiribati and Tokelau and activities focus on research and monitoring, capacity-building and awareness-raising, policy support and implementing practical adaptation actions. Financial support is provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Principality of Monaco.

The issue

Small island developing states (SIDS), such as nations in the Pacific Island region, are highly exposed to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, given their close proximity to the marine environment and their reliance on marine resources for livelihoods and infrastructure.

In particular, the Pacific Islands are especially vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification. For example, as the ocean acidifies it becomes more difficult for coral reefs to calcify, resulting in net dissolution. As the coral structure erodes, the reef becomes a less effective force against wave and storm erosion, and it is harder to keep up with sea level rise.

In addition, the tourism infrastructure and fisheries industries in the Pacific Islands rely heavily on healthy coral reefs. Therefore, the impacts of ocean acidification in the region strongly affect community resilience and economic well-being.

The response

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Using alkaline rock minerals to combat climate change

The OceanNETs project explores an approach for carbon dioxide removal in a Norwegian fjord

Deployment of the KOSMOS mesocosms with research vessel ALKOR in the Raunefjord south of Bergen, Norway, for an experiment on ocean alkalinisation. Photo: Michael Sswat, GEOMAR

How can carbon dioxide (CO2) be removed from the atmosphere and stored safely and permanently in the ocean? This question is being investigated by scientists from seven nations led by GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in an experiment just starting in the Raunefjord near Bergen, Norway. In mesocosms, free-floating, experimental enclosures, they are exploring whether the ocean can absorb additional CO2 from the atmosphere through the addition of alkaline minerals – known as ocean alkalinisation – and what influence this has on marine communities. The study will last until mid-July and takes place as part of the Ocean-based Negative Emission Technologies (OceanNETs) project funded by the European Union.

The target is clear: In the Paris Agreement, the global community agreed to limit global warming to well below 2° Celsius and to make efforts to keep it below 1.5° Celsius. This can only be achieved if we drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and take measures to actively remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere again – in other words, create “negative emissions”. To what extent the ocean can support this and what risks and side effects might occur is currently being investigated by an international 43-member research team led by GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in a study south of Bergen, Norway.

For the long-term experiment, the researchers are using mesocosms developed at GEOMAR, which are a type of oversized test tube, 20 metres long and two metres in diameter. In the sealed containers, the pH value of the seawater is raised by the addition of alkaline minerals. This so-called alkalinization not only counteracts ocean acidification, it also enhances the ocean’s potential to take up and store CO2. Regular sampling and measurements document the chemical and biological changes in the mesocosms over a period of about eight weeks.

The investigated approach simulates a natural process: In nature, minerals from rocks and soils are partially responsible for maintaining the alkalinity of seawater. In the experiment, slaked lime – representing calcium-based minerals – and magnesium silicate – representing siliceous minerals – are used for alkalinization, because they dissolve easily in water and are free of impurities often contained in minerals. The experiment aims to clarify how effectively this sequesters additional CO2, which of the two substances produces better results and, most importantly, how ocean alkalinization affects marine life.

“We need to work on ways to actively mitigate climate change. The problem is becoming more and more pressing. Even if we manage to reduce CO2 emissions fast and radically, there will still remain CO2 emission we cannot avoid,” says Professor Dr. Ulf Riebesell, marine biologist at GEOMAR and project leader of the study. “With our research, we want to help develop safe and sustainable solutions which can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In doing so, it is important to ensure that negative impacts on the marine environment are prevented.”

Mesocosm studies are particularly suitable for investigating the effects of changes in seawater chemistry without affecting the marine environment. The sealed structure of the “giant test tubes” allows conditions in the enclosed water to be altered in a controlled manner. Mesocosms contain natural communities and are exposed to real environmental conditions during experiments, so that close-to-natural conditions can be simulated. This is not possible in the laboratory.

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What’s the big deal about ocean acidification?

Fifth-grade students from an inland community discover a local connection to our ocean

Students assemble a pH scale puzzle.

We have only one ocean and it is inextricably linked to human health, yet research shows most elementary students do not understand the one-ocean concept (Mogias 2019). Additionally, the ocean—and its problems—may seem unrelated to students’ lives even though it provides half of the oxygen we breathe (via plankton); manufactures our weather; supplies food and drinking water; and makes a global economy possible. “Enhancing interactions with the ocean through experiential learning could be the most effective way of improving ocean literacy as well as marine citizen- and stewardship” (Guest et al. 2015). So, we—a literacy consultant and a children’s author—came together to show educators how STEM and language arts could be combined in ocean experiential learning.

In a series of 12 project-based learning lessons, a group of seven fifth-grade students who live 200 miles from the coast explored their personal connections to our ocean. After completing a unit on the role of water in Earth’s surface processes, the students investigated ocean acidification and how this pervasive ocean problem impacts their local community. We had three basic goals for our students:

  • Learn the process of ocean acidification and its impact on the environment.
  • Understand the link between their inland community and the ocean.
  • Form meaningful emotional relationships with the ocean and take action on ocean sustainability.

The following lessons may be scaled up for an entire class. For example, the teacher could work with a rotation of small groups while other students work collaboratively on related tasks. Alternatively, the teacher could provide whole-group focus lessons (or, in some cases, directions) and then confer with small groups as they engage in the conversations and other activities described here.

Engage: Planet Ocean?

We began by engaging students with the ocean to help them develop a fascination with the underwater world. Students received digital access to Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean (Newman 2021) and were asked to read independently to obtain and evaluate information by examining the layout, design, narrative, and features including QR codes that link to short helpful videos. We then asked students to think about important points and communicate to classmates why these points were important. While Planet Ocean received a Lexile score of 1030, typically for grades 4 to 6, the book includes different writing and design formats that make the text easier for some learners to comprehend, including narratives about the work of climate activists, detailed photographs, links to videos that support understanding, and diagrams. To meet the needs of diverse groups of students or students with special needs, the teacher might assign specific sections of text or videos instead of the book as a whole, or confer with individuals or small groups as they read more complex parts.

To prepare the group for student-led discussions about what they read, we modeled for students how to prepare for a conversation with their peers. After reading from a short section of the book, Sunday Cummins “thought aloud” about what details she wanted to remember to share while writing a few thoughts on a sticky note. The students followed a similar process, and then shared in small groups.

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Four key climate change indicators break records in 2021 (text & video)

Four key climate change indicators – greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification – set new records in 2021. This is yet another clear sign that human activities are causing planetary scale changes on land, in the ocean, and in the atmosphere, with harmful and long-lasting ramifications for sustainable development and ecosystems, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Extreme weather – the day-to-day “face” of climate change – led to hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses and wreaked a heavy toll on human lives and well-being and triggered shocks for food and water security and displacement that have accentuated in 2022.

The WMO State of the Global Climate in 2021 report confirmed that the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record. 2021 was “only” one of the seven warmest because of a La Niña event at the start and end of the year. This had a temporary cooling effect but did not reverse the overall trend of rising temperatures. The average global temperature in 2021 was about 1.11 (± 0.13) °C above the pre-industrial level.

Key Messages

Greenhouse gas concentrations reached a new global high in 2020, when the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 413.2 parts per million (ppm) globally, or 149% of the pre-industrial level. Data from specific locations indicate that they continued to increase in 2021 and early 2022, with monthly average CO2 at Mona Loa in Hawaii reaching 416.45 ppm in April 2020, 419.05 ppm in April 2021, and 420.23 ppm in April 2022.

The global annual mean temperature in 2021 was around 1.11 ±0.13 °C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average, less warm than some recent years owing to cooling La Niña conditions at the start and end of the year. The most recent seven years, 2015 to 2021, are the seven warmest years on record. 

Ocean heat was record high. The upper 2000m depth of the ocean continued to warm in 2021 and it is expected that it will continue to warm in the future – a change which is irreversible on centennial to millennial time scales. All data sets agree that ocean warming rates show a particularly strong increase in the past two decades. The warmth is penetrating to ever deeper levels. Much of the ocean experienced at least one ‘strong’ marine heatwave at some point in 2021.

Ocean acidification. The ocean absorbs around 23% of the annual emissions of anthropogenic CO2 to the atmosphere. This reacts with seawater and leads to ocean acidification, which threatens organisms and ecosystem services, and hence food security, tourism and coastal protection. As the pH of the ocean decreases, its capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere also declines. The IPCC concluded that “there is very high confidence that open ocean surface pH is now the lowest it has been for at least 26,000 years and current rates of pH change are unprecedented since at least that time.

Continue reading ‘Four key climate change indicators break records in 2021 (text & video)’

Using bacteria to accelerate CO2 capture in oceans

Berkeley Lab researcher proposes novel scheme for capturing carbon dioxide and combating climate change

Berkeley Lab researcher Peter Agbo was awarded a grant for a carbon capture project under the Lab’s Carbon Negative Initiative. (Credit: Marilyn Sargent/Berkeley Lab)

You may be familiar with direct air capture, or DAC, in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere in an effort to slow the effects of climate change. Now a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has proposed a scheme for direct ocean capture. Removing COfrom the oceans will enable them to continue to do their job of absorbing excess CO2 from the atmosphere.

Experts mostly agree that combating climate change will take more than halting emissions of climate-warming gases. We must also remove the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have already been emitted, to the tune of gigatons of CO2 removed each year by 2050 in order to achieve net zero emissions. The oceans contain significantly more CO2 than the atmosphere and have been acting as an important carbon sink for our planet.

Peter Agbo is a Berkeley Lab staff scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division, with a secondary appointment in the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division. He was awarded a grant through Berkeley Lab’s Carbon Negative Initiative, which is aiming to develop breakthrough negative emissions technologies, for his ocean capture proposal. His co-investigators on this project are Steven Singer at the Joint BioEnergy Institute and Ruchira Chatterjee, a scientist in the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division of Berkeley Lab.

Q. Can you explain how you envision your technology to work?

What I’m essentially trying to do is convert CO2 to limestone, and one way to do this is to use seawater. The reason you can do this is because limestone is composed of magnesium, or what’s called magnesium and calcium carbonates. There’s a lot of magnesium and calcium naturally resident in seawater. So if you have free CO2 floating around in seawater, along with that magnesium and calcium, it will naturally form limestone to a certain extent, but the process is very slow – borderline geologic time scales.

It turns out that the bottleneck in the conversion of CO2 to these magnesium and calcium carbonates in seawater is a process that is naturally catalyzed by an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase. It’s not important to know the enzyme name; it’s just important to know that when you add carbonic anhydrase to this seawater mixture, you can basically accelerate the conversion of CO2 to these limestones under suitable conditions.

And so the idea is to scale this up – drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere into the ocean and ultimately into some limestone product that you could sequester.

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Experts highlight need to consider environmental variation in ocean acidification studies

Marine scientists collect sea urchins for an experiment during an ocean acidification training hosted by the IAEA in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2019. (Photo: S Dupont/IAEA) 

The impact of ocean acidification on species in different parts of the world has been miscalculated, so far, and its impact in some cases over- and in other cases underestimated, an analysis of 86 research papers by experts from around the world has revealed. Many of these earlier studies had not taken into account natural variation in baseline acidity levels across the world’s seas, leading to incorrect assumptions. 

As the ocean absorbs some of the surplus carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it gradually becomes more acidic, meaning that pH is decreasing, and animals need to cope with their changing environment. While studying the effect of ocean acidification, scientists have revealed varying responses among the same species. For example, with copepods, which are small crustaceans at the base of the food chain, two populations of the same species were shown to have contrasting responses to the same level of acidification: one being very sensitive and negatively impacted in terms of growth and survival, while the other showed a positive response. 

Here is why.    

Local impacts of ocean acidification

In a recent study, Dupont worked with marine scientists from Chile, China and Sweden to analyse existing data available through the OA-ICC databases. The results of the analysis, which examined the effects of pH on biological traits – ingestion, respiration, growth, etc. – of coastal invertebrates, including crustaceans, corals and sea urchins, were published in the journal Nature Climate Change in February. “By conducting a global analysis, we have found that more than half of the selected studies may have underestimated the local impacts of future ocean acidification by exposing organisms to conditions that those organisms already experience in their geographic areas,” explained Cristian Vargas, lead author of the study and Professor at University of Concepcion, Chile. Vargas concluded that the impact of ocean acidification has been miscalculated because of the lack of information related to organisms’ habitats. 

The international team reviewed 380 publications before analysing results of 86 independent ocean acidification studies that covered nine coastal regions. The latest study is a follow up to a concept published in 2017 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, which proposed an index to take into account the variability of environmental conditions to better understand the consequences of ocean acidification on species inhabiting in different ecosystems. 

Centre for training, data and research

Since the late 1980s, 95 per cent of open ocean surface water has become more acidic, as there is more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activities for the ocean to absorb. The IAEA supports countries around the world in utilizing nuclear and nuclear-derived techniques to develop a science-based understanding of changes in the ocean. In response to growing concerns from the scientific community and governments regarding ocean acidification, the IAEA established the OA-ICC in 2012 at the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco. Since then, the Centre has supported and organized 31 training courses and workshops on ocean acidification with more than 625 participants from 101 countries.  

“The Centre hosts a well-structured capacity building programme, and we realize that something is missing – this idea of utilizing resources of the OA-ICC to create new knowledge,” Dupont said. “That is extremely important in certain countries where the infrastructure is not stable, or laboratories and equipment are limited.” The OA-ICC’s databases are available for free and open access. The Centre plans to organize a training later this year, focused on the IAEA resources available to aid research.  

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Ocean alkalinity enhancement R&D program & survey

A philanthropic consortium, led by Additional Ventures, is proud to launch the Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement (OAE) R&D Program, an ambitious effort to accelerate understanding of OAE as a potential method for large-scale carbon dioxide removal (CDR).

Why Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that even aggressive mitigation measures to  reduce CO2 emissions will have to be complemented with carbon dioxide removal (CDR) on the order of 100–1000 billion tons of CO2 before the end of the 21st century to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

The ocean already contains 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere and has an enormous capacity to permanently sequester more. As ocean-based CO2 removal has attracted more interest, OAE has emerged as a particularly intriguing approach. When alkalinity increases in seawater, dissolved CO2 is chemically transformed to bicarbonate and carbonate ions. This transformation can help de-acidify seawater, turning the chemical clock of the ocean back to pre-industrial times. OAE can, at least on paper, sequester billions tons of CO2 annually for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years, imitating geologic weathering processes that have sequestered trillions of tons of atmospheric CO2 in the ocean over millennia.

In late 2021, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Mathematics (NASEM) released a study on ocean-based CDR approaches. In this consensus report, OAE stands out as a potentially efficient and highly scalable CDR pathway that permanently sequesters CO2.

The Promise of Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement

Ocean alkalinity enhancement is a particularly promising ocean CDR approach. Below is a visual representation of key quantitative and qualitative results summarized by NASEM (2021, Table S.1 therein). Note that some of the most cost-effective and scalable “electrochemical processes” described in NASEM (2021) increase the alkalinity of seawater, and/or force the precipitation of solid alkaline materials that can be used for OAE. Our definition of OAE encompasses these electrochemical approaches.

Survey on ocean-based Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) recruitment needs

Additional Ventures, a new science funder in the field of ocean CDR, is interested in understanding how to recruit the best scientific talent to ocean CDR research. Please take this super-short, checkmark-style survey about your experience on this topic – you do not have to be already active in ocean CDR to take the survey.

Take the survey here (2 min. max & anonymous by default)

We aim to collect responses from a range of stakeholders, disciplines, and career stages.

Thank you so much for your time and support of this effort!

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Podcast: adapting to the future: two NOAA scientists discuss new global report on climate change

NOAA Fisheries podcaster John Sheehan talks with Dr. Kirstin Holsman and Dr. Libby Jewett, two of the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. 



Graphic of globe showing sea surface height change from 1992 to 2019. Credit: NASA.

Climate change is getting worse, it’s happening everywhere, and it requires immediate action. These are just a few of the takeaways of a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is the United Nations body that assesses the science related to climate change and presents actionable information for the world’s decision makers. Hundreds of expert scientists from around the world helped compile this report, including NOAA authors Dr. Kirstin Holsman and Dr. Libby Jewett.  

In this episode of Dive In with NOAA Fisheries, John Sheehan talks with Dr. Kirstin Holsman and Dr. Libby Jewett. They share insights on some of the very real challenges of climate change, as well some actionable information. 

Dr. Holsman is a research fishery biologist, and the co-lead investigator on the Alaska Climate Integrated Modeling project, which is evaluating the impacts of climate change on the Bering Sea. Dr. Jewett is the founding director of the NOAA Ocean Acidification program, which examines how the chemistry of the ocean is changing, and the impacts of these changes.

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How will Atlantic surfclams fare in a changing ocean?

Molly Roberts takes us behind the scenes of research on carbonate chemistry effects on the growth of this iconic species off Cape Cod.

NOAA Fisheries and student researchers collect seawater samples and measure environmental conditions in Barnstable Bay, Massachusetts. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Ben Tuttle

Where does the Atlantic surfclam grow the fastest? How will this species respond to global change, including ocean acidification, over the long term? These questions drive us to study surfclam growth around Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Since last summer, we’ve been visiting a number of sites on Cape Cod. At each site we look for surfclams and sample the seawater. We’re interested in the environmental conditions that the clams live in, such as the water they pull through their mantles to filter feed. We also look at the water they’re exposed to within the sand, called sediment pore-water. We hope to find out if their growth rate correlates with the chemistry of the sediment they burrow into.

This March we prepared for a transplant experiment in which we will grow two subspecies of surfclams in enclosures. This will help us to better understand the role of the environment versus population on their growth. To better understand the role of the environment on growth, we will compare the growth of the northern subspecies at different sites. At one southern Cape Cod site that has a large population of the southern subspecies we will also compare the growth of the two subspecies. 

Surfclam shell (left) is ground up to shell hash (right) that will be used in the transplant experiment. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Emily Roberts

Meanwhile, I’ve been crushing surfclam shell into small (less than 4 millimeter) pieces. We will mix the shell into the sand within the enclosures. We think adding this calcium carbonate shell may change the chemistry of the water between the grains of sand.

One side effect of fossil fuel pollution is known as ocean acidification. When carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from fossil fuels dissolves into seawater, this increases the acidity of the seawater, making it less basic (or alkaline). We think that adding shell might alleviate stress on the surfclams caused by this change in chemistry of the seawater.

The transplant experiment will last 9 to 12 months and include at least three sampling periods. We’ll study the growth of the surfclams and monitor their environment during this time. We’ll use the data we collect to validate a model of surfclam growth and reproduction under different ocean conditions. We then plan to use this model to predict the effect of ocean warming and ocean acidification on surfclam growth at these sites.

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Interview with Ebb Carbon founder Ben Tarbell

Benjamin Schulz: When did you create Ebb Carbon, and what’s the story behind it? What was your initial motivation to create Ebb Carbon? 

Ben Tarbell: We started about a year ago in February 2021, and our company stems from the broader area of research of Matt Eisaman, Ebb Carbon’s Chief Technology Officer and one of our co-founders. He spent the last decade researching the ocean carbonate system and the role it plays in helping the ocean absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. Matt and I met at Google X, where I was leading a team commercializing climate technologies and Matt was a science advisor.

Recently, Matt won a grant from the Grantham Foundation to commercialize some of the work coming out of his lab, which was the inspiration for Ebb Carbon. When Matt got in contact with me,  I put him in touch with our other two co-founders, Dave and Todd, who I’ve also worked with in the past. They started helping him with some of the work on the grant, and then, six months later, we founded the company.

Benjamin Schulz: Could you explain the Ebb Carbon service or product to our readers and how it might be different from other services that are, on the surface, similar?

Ben Tarbell: Ebb Carbon sells the service of removing and storing carbon dioxide from the air. We store this carbon dioxide in the ocean’s natural permanent solution for carbon storage called bicarbonate, significantly accelerating a naturally occurring process that takes place over thousands of years. But while we do it, we also reduce ocean acidification. Bicarbonate is safe, stable, and naturally abundant in the ocean — it’s by far the largest form of carbon storage in the biosphere.

The way Ebb Carbon’s technology works is that our system intercepts salt water flows from industrial facilities that process sea water, like desalination plants. Using our proprietary electrochemical system, we pull acid out of the brine flow and we can sell that acid as a low cost, low carbon replacement for existing commodity acid in industrial markets. When we return the slightly alkaline sea water to the ocean, it reacts with CO2 from the air to form bicarbonate without increasing the ocean’s acidity, and in fact, actually decreasing acidification.

Once the carbon dioxide is converted to bicarbonate, it’s stable for more than 10,000 years, so it’s virtually permanent from the perspective of carbon storage.

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Can ocean-based CO₂ removal deliver on our climate goals?

The ocean has enormous – and largely untapped – potential to cycle and sequester excess atmospheric carbon through processes like seaweed cultivation. So how can stakeholders tap into this potential to scale CO₂ removal efforts and deliver climate wins?

Ocean conservation is closely linked to the fight against climate change

“At the end of the day, carbon dioxide removal is ocean conservation,” Brad Ack, chief innovation officer of Ocean Visions told delegates at the recent World Ocean Summit. Ack, who transitioned to ocean biodiversity conservation mid-career, explained that though we’re in a global race to preserve marine ecosystems, we’ve been outpaced by the larger changes in the climate.

Surplus carbon dioxide is heavily concentrated in the upper layer of the ocean. This additional CO₂ contributes to excess heat that is driving marine heatwaves, changes in ocean currents, species migration and ocean acidification. Ack told delegates that the body of heat is roughly equivalent to five atomic bombs worth of heat going into the ocean every second.

How can the ocean remove atmospheric carbon?

Ack explained that the ocean stores 50 times more carbon in bicarbonate and carbonate forms – like shellfish, seagrasses and seaweeds – in the bottom of the sea than what’s in the atmosphere today. This means that with minor tweaks that lead to increases in overall carbon storage, the ocean can make a huge dent in our collective carbon removal efforts.

Broadly speaking, the ocean cycles carbon in two patterns. One is chemical – where ocean water interacts with alkaline material to make it less acidic. Over millennia, these geologic processes allow the ocean to store carbon in safe forms in the benthic zone.

What does ocean CO₂ removal look like?

“[Think about it as an] antacid for an ocean that is in severe distress,” Ack responded when asked about specific de-carbonising methods. “We’ve put all this acid into the ocean – that’s what CO₂ is, it makes the ocean more acidic – we’ve got a very upset ocean, [so an] antacid could possibly help to reverse that acidification problem.”

Bivalve production may help de-acidify and remediate ocean waters© Offshore Shellfish

Though this might conjure images of ships dumping quicklime into the sea, Ack assured the audience that this wasn’t what he had in mind. His startup, Ocean Visions, is working on “roadmaps” that outline key technologies and strategies to de-acidify and de-carbonise the ocean. When it comes to enhancing ocean alkalinity, seaweed cultivation is emerging as a viable strategy – but Ack stressed that more research and development (R&D) was needed before he could give macroalgae production a full-throated endorsement.

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Ocean vital signs

MIT scientists hope to deploy a fleet of drones to get a better sense of how much carbon the ocean is absorbing, and how much more it can take.

Researchers propose launching a fleet of oceangoing drones that would continuously monitor the flux of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and ocean, helping to inform next-generation visualizations and models of the global carbon cycle. Credits:
Image: Arizona State University Polar Globe/NSF

Without the ocean, the climate crisis would be even worse than it is. Each year, the ocean absorbs billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere, preventing warming that greenhouse gas would otherwise cause. Scientists estimate about 25 to 30 percent of all carbon released into the atmosphere by both human and natural sources is absorbed by the ocean.

“But there’s a lot of uncertainty in that number,” says Ryan Woosley, a marine chemist and a principal research scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at MIT. Different parts of the ocean take in different amounts of carbon depending on many factors, such as the season and the amount of mixing from storms. Current models of the carbon cycle don’t adequately capture this variation.

To close the gap, Woosley and a team of other MIT scientists developed a research proposal for the MIT Climate Grand Challenges competition — an Institute-wide campaign to catalyze and fund innovative research addressing the climate crisis. The team’s proposal, “Ocean Vital Signs,” involves sending a fleet of sailing drones to cruise the oceans taking detailed measurements of how much carbon the ocean is really absorbing. Those data would be used to improve the precision of global carbon cycle models and improve researchers’ ability to verify emissions reductions claimed by countries.

“If we start to enact mitigation strategies—either through removing CO2 from the atmosphere or reducing emissions — we need to know where CO2 is going in order to know how effective they are,” says Woosley. Without more precise models there’s no way to confirm whether observed carbon reductions were thanks to policy and people, or thanks to the ocean.

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New investments in Oregon Ocean Science Research

The Oregon Ocean Science Trust (OOST) has awarded $1.1 million in state funding to ocean researchers to help Oregon better understand and monitor and ocean changes. The funding was made available as a result of HB3114, which passed during the 2021 legislative session, and allocated the funds to the Oregon Ocean Science Trust (OOST) to address ocean acidification and hypoxia (OAH) and the risks it poses to the state’s economy and ecosystems. Through competitive grants, the funds have been distributed to marine researchers.

“We have completed our competitive bid process to award all of the funding the 2021 Oregon Legislature allocated for these important ocean issues, and we’re excited to track and share the results of these important research projects,” said Laura Anderson, Chair of the Oregon Ocean Science Trust.

The funding by the 2021 Oregon Legislature addressed priority actions in Oregon’s OAH Plan. The grant funding that has been awarded to date will address OAH in a variety of ways, from developing best management practices that help conserve and restore submerged aquatic vegetation while supporting healthy shellfish populations and aquaculture, to better understanding ecosystem function in subtidal and intertidal marine reserves.

“Oregonians will have a better understanding of the science that drives changes in our ocean and estuaries, which will inform steps everyone can take to ensure we have healthy marine ecosystems for coastal economies and Oregon fisheries.” said Caren Braby, OAH Council Co-Chair.

OAH Council Co-Chair Jack Barth added, “Understanding factors that contribute to ocean acidification and low oxygen levels in water is critical for ocean and estuary conservation and management. The results from these research projects will improve our understanding of changes in oceans and estuaries, and inform conservation and management strategies to mitigate these changes.”
In March of 2022, the OOST awarded grants to:

  • Dr. Tarang Khangaonkar and colleagues from the University of Washington along with partners from the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, the University of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians to evaluate the interaction of water quality and eelgrass in Coos Bay using a biophysical model. A total of $131,126 will enhance Oregon’s ability to inform estuarine conservation and management.
  • Dr. Melissa Ward and colleagues from San Diego State University and partners from Oregon State University to develop science-based management practices for co-management of Oregon submerged aquatic vegetation and shellfish. A total of $170,520 will support the conservation and restoration of estuarine submerged aquatic vegetation while supporting shellfish aquaculture and native shellfish populations.

In February of 2002, the OOST awarded grants to:

  • Dr. Francis Chan of Oregon State University to enhance subtidal and intertidal OAH monitoring at Oregon’s Marine Reserves. A total of $385,088 will guide future state investments that protect ecologically important places in Oregon’s Territorial Sea.
  • Dr. Robert Cowen of Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center to establish a long-term OAH monitoring station in Yaquina Bay, including data collection and dissemination system. A total of $97,407 will help Oregonians understand impacts of ocean change in an important economic, research, and management hub for Oregon.
  • Dr. George Waldbusser of Oregon State University to map the dynamics of OAH in the Yaquina Bay estuary and the related biological responses in native Olympia oysters. A total of $174,989 will expand scientific knowledge on an ecologically and culturally significant species that is potentially vulnerable to ocean change.
  • Pathways Collaborative to develop messaging that helps the public understand the science, impacts, and solutions associated with ocean acidification and hypoxia. A total of $63,376 will empower coastal communities to take informed actions that contribute to a more robust future using positive, solutions-oriented messaging.

For more information on each project, and to track the progress of each project during the next two years, visit and the OOST website. The OOST will announce additional competitive grant opportunities and awards for applied OAH research, management, and communications in the coming months as a result of House Bill 5202, which provided $1,000,000 in additional funding added to the OOST research grant program by the 2022 Oregon Legislature. The funds will be used for science and monitoring on nearshore keystone species, including sea otters, nearshore marine ecosystems, kelp and eelgrass habitat, and sequestration of blue carbon.

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Kachemak Bay monitoring efforts contribute important data about ocean acidification in nearshore ecosystems

The Kelley Lab’s four sampling locations in Kachemak Bay. Image credit: Kelley Lab

Alaska’s coastal waters are some of the most commercially valuable and productive ecosystems on the planet. Ocean acidification—a decrease in ocean pH caused by increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide—is expected to impact these ecosystems, but very little is known about how it could alter nearshore environments.

Nearshore ecosystems provide habitat and serve as a nursery for juvenile fish and shellfish. Even small changes in pH could affect the development of organisms such as plankton, shrimp and oysters, with implications for other animals higher on the food chain, including salmon. Understanding how pH fluctuates in these shallow coastal waters will help scientists and resource managers determine what ocean acidification could mean for commercially important species.

UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences professor Amanda Kelley and graduate student James Currie are collecting data from Kachemak Bay to gain more insight into how pH conditions are changing in Alaska’s nearshore waters. Using a combination of manual field sampling and data from autonomous underwater pH sensors called SeaFETs (Sea Field Effect Transistors), they are compiling physical and chemical information to inform current and future ocean acidification studies.

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Towards the UN Ocean Conference | from Geneva to Lisbon

The 2022 UN Ocean Conference will be held from 27 June to 1 July 2022 in Lisbon. It will provide a critical opportunity to mobilize partnerships and increase investment in science-driven approaches to achieve SDG 14. Organizations in Geneva are actively supporting processes in the run-up to the conference.

About the 2022 UN Ocean Conference

The ocean is our planet’s largest ecosystem. It is our life source, supporting humanity’s sustenance and that of every other organism on earth. It stabilizes climate, stores carbon, nurtures unimaginable biodiversity, and directly supports human well-being through food and energy resources, as well as by providing cultural and recreational services. Not to mention, the ocean is key to our economy with an estimated 40 million people being employed by ocean-based industries by 2030.

The 2022 UN Ocean Conference, co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal, comes at a critical time as the world is strengthening its efforts to mobilize, create and drive solutions to realize the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. As one of the first milestones of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ newly launched Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals, the Conference will propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.

“The first ocean conference in 2017 was a game changer in terms of waking the world up to the Ocean’s problems. I think this conference in Lisbon in June is going to be about providing the solutions to the problems that we’ve alerted the world to. And I’m very confident that those solutions emerge when we get there.” Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, 18 March 2022 (Source: UN News)

Visit the official website

Programme and Side Events

The UN Ocean Conference will focus on some of the major challenges and opportunities faced by the ocean today. The conference will include plenaries, as well as a series of interactive dialogues on the following themes:

  • Addressing Marine Pollution
  • Promoting and strengthening sustainable ocean-based economies, in particular for Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries
  • Managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems
  • Minimizing and addressing ocean acidification, deoxygenation and ocean warming
  • Making fisheries sustainable and providing access for small–scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets
  • Increasing scientific knowledge and developing research capacity and transfer of marine technology
  • Enhancing the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
  • Leveraging interlinkages between Sustainable Development Goal 14 and other Goals towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda

The conference is expected to adopt a political declaration on “Our ocean, our future, our responsibility“. Drafts and inputs from Member States can be found here.

Discover the programme

Various side events, both in-person and online, will be organized in the margins of the official meetings of the 2022 UN Ocean Conference. Side events may be organized by Member States, Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), UN entities and all other duly accredited and registered entities. Priority will be given to events organized by Member States and those organized in partnership by multiple entities. All interested parties are strongly encouraged to partner with others to organize a side event. The call for side events is open until 8 April 2022.

Apply for a side event

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IAEA supports early career scientists to study ocean acidification

The IAEA course on ocean acidification, held at Sweden’s Kristineberg Center for Marine Research and Innovation in March 2022, trained 19 participants from 11 countries, of which 16 were women. (Photo: A.Bantelman/IAEA)

Ocean acidification, often referred to as “the other CO2 problem”, was the focus of a dedicated training course for 19 early career scientists, jointly held by the IAEA and Swedish counterparts this month.

The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) released by human activities. This sounds good at first, as it leaves less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and substantially limits climate change. But at the same time, it causes changes in the carbonate chemistry and acidity of seawater, making the ocean more acidic. This is becoming a key global issue due to its potential to affect marine organisms and biogeochemical cycles.

The six-day course held on 14–19 March 2022 at the Kristineberg Center for Marine Research and Innovation in Fiskebäckskil was conducted by the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories, together with the University of Gothenburg, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the Northeast Atlantic Hub of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network. It provided participants from 11 countries in Europe with the knowledge necessary for measuring and manipulating seawater carbonate chemistry, setting up experiments, avoiding typical pitfalls and ensuring comparability with other studies.

The global community’s concerns about ocean acidification are reflected in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14, under Target 3: “Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels.” For nearly 10 years, the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories have supported countries in studying the impacts of, and addressing, ocean acidification through its Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC).

The OA-ICC, an IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative, has a threefold mandate to communicate, promote and facilitate international activities on ocean acidification. Its capacity building programme leads training activities for scientists from IAEA Member States, providing them with both theoretical and practical knowledge on how to study ocean acidification and its impacts in their home countries.

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A look back on the Ocean Sciences Meeting 2022

COVID-19 has posed unprecedented challenges across the globe. Ocean science, for example, has drastically evolved in response to these uncertainties. The pandemic temporarily halted collaborative research projects in the lab and the servicing of long-term monitoring instruments deployed offshore. But regular travel to conferences that would normally garner diverse ideas and novel research remains tenuous. 

This year’s Ocean Sciences Meeting 2022 (OSM), held virtually from February 24 to March 4, was themed “Come Together and Connect”. This sentiment was especially important to The Ocean Foundation. Now two years out from the start of the pandemic, we were so grateful and excited to have a multitude of programs and partners involved at OSM 2022. Together we shared the strong progress made through ongoing support, Zoom calls across the globe that almost inevitably required early mornings and late nights for some, and camaraderie as we all dealt with unanticipated struggles. Across the five days of scientific sessions, TOF led or supported four presentations that stemmed from our International Ocean Acidification Initiative and EquiSea

Some Ocean Sciences Meeting Equity Barriers

On the issue of equity, there continues to be room for improvements in virtual conferences such as OSM. While the pandemic has advanced our abilities to remotely connect and share scientific efforts, not everyone has the same level of access. The excitement of stepping into the bustle of a conference center each morning and afternoon coffee breaks can help sweep jet lag aside during in-person conferences. But navigating early or late talks while working from home poses a different set of challenges.

Our pCO2 to Go Sensor’s Debut

Excitingly, the Ocean Sciences Meeting was also the first time we’ve showcased our new low-cost, handheld pCO2 sensor. This new analyzer was born out of a challenge from IOAI Program Officer Alexis Valauri-Orton to Dr. Burke Hales. With his expertise and our drive to create a more accessible tool to measure ocean chemistry, together we developed the pCO2 to Go, a sensor system that fits in the palm of a hand and provides readouts of the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide in seawater (pCO2). We’re continuing to test the pCO2 to Go with partners at the Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute to ensure hatcheries can easily use it to monitor and adjust their seawater – to keep young shellfish alive and growing. At OSM, we highlighted its use in coastal environments to take high-quality measurements in just a few minutes.

The pCO2 to Go to go is a valuable tool for studying small spatial scales with high accuracy. But, the challenge of changing ocean conditions also requires larger geographic attention. As the conference was originally to be held in Hawai’i, large ocean states were a central focus of the meeting. Dr. Venkatesan Ramasamy organized a session on “Ocean Observation for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS)” where TOF partner Dr. Katy Soapi presented on behalf of our project to increase ocean acidification observation capacity in the Pacific Islands.

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What’s the big deal about ocean acidification?

Fifth-grade students from an inland community discover a local connection to our ocean

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We have only one ocean and it is inextricably linked to human health, yet research shows most elementary students do not understand the one-ocean concept (Mogias 2019). Additionally, the ocean—and its problems—may seem unrelated to students’ lives even though it provides half of the oxygen we breathe (via plankton); manufactures our weather; supplies food and drinking water; and makes a global economy possible. “Enhancing interactions with the ocean through experiential learning could be the most effective way of improving ocean literacy as well as marine citizen- and stewardship” (Guest et al. 2015). So, we—a literacy consultant and a children’s author—came together to show educators how STEM and language arts could be combined in ocean experiential learning.

In a series of 12 project-based learning lessons, a group of seven fifth-grade students who live 200 miles from the coast explored their personal connections to our ocean. After completing a unit on the role of water in Earth’s surface processes, the students investigated ocean acidification and how this pervasive ocean problem impacts their local community.
We had three basic goals for our students:

  • Learn the process of ocean acidification and its impact on the environment.
  • Understand the link between their inland community and the ocean.
  • Form meaningful emotional relationships with the ocean and take action on ocean sustainability.

The following lessons may be scaled up for an entire class. For example, the teacher could work with a rotation of small groups while other students work collaboratively on related tasks. Alternatively, the teacher could provide whole-group focus lessons (or, in some cases, directions) and then confer with small groups as they engage in the conversations and other activities described here

Continue reading ‘What’s the big deal about ocean acidification?’

Ocean carbon critical to predict climate change impacts, study named outstanding paper

A Conductivity, Depth and Temperature (CDT) rosette is lowered into the ocean at Station ALOHA. (Photo credit: HOT Program)

As carbon dioxide emissions have increased in the atmosphere, the ocean has absorbed a greater amount of carbon according to a publication co-authored by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa oceanography Professor Christopher Sabine and selected as a 2021 Outstanding Scientific Paper by NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

The study, published in Science, reported that the world’s oceans absorbed 34 billion metric tons of carbon from human activity between 1994 and 2007—a four-fold increase to 2.6 billion metric tons per year when compared to the average uptake for the period starting from the Industrial Revolution in 1800 to 1994.

Despite this increase, the percentage of emissions—about 31%—absorbed by the ocean has remained relatively stable when compared to the first survey of carbon in the global ocean published by Sabine and co-authors in 2004.

“The uptake and storage in the ocean of human-produced carbon dioxide has significantly decreased the climate change effects the planet has seen so far,” said Sabine, who is also the interim vice provost for research and scholarship. “Getting a handle on how much more the ocean can take before marine ecosystems are severely compromised is critical for predicting future climate change impacts.”

Christopher Sabine

By absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the ocean reduces the warming impact these emissions would have had if the carbon dioxide had remained in the atmosphere. However, carbon dissolved into the ocean causes seawater to acidify, threatening the ability of shellfish and corals to build their skeletons, and affecting the health of other fish and marine species—many that are important to Hawaiian coastal economies and food security.

Sabine’s publication and the two others selected in Weather and Climate categories, were chosen as exemplary scientific endeavors that showcase the effective collaboration of federal, contractor and cooperative institute scientists to produce research that is vital in advancing NOAA’s mission to better understand the natural world and help protect its precious resources.

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As ocean acidification threatens the shellfish industry, this California oyster farm is raising oysters resistant to climate change

Forward-thinking Carlsbad Aquafarm also diversifies into seaweed to develop vegan products

Despite the dangers to shellfish posed by ocean acidification, Carlsbad Aquafarms in California is producing oysters resistant to climate change and diversifying into seaweed production. Photos courtesy of Carlsbad Aquafarms.

Sitting on the California coast north of San Diego, Carlsbad Aquafarm has been farming oysters and mussels since 1990. Its longevity is impressive, partly because running a successful aquaculture operation in the Golden State can be notoriously difficult.

“There’s a lot of regulatory hurdles that California has that other states don’t have,” said Thomas Grimm, CEO. The permitting process can be challenging and lengthy, he noted.

That observation was echoed in a public commentary by Brandon Barney, co-founder of Primary Ocean. He stated in January that gaining state regulatory agency approval for a seaweed farm took years despite the project being backed by the U.S. government. And a 2019 study from the libertarian Pacific Research Institute found California ranked second to last among states in terms of its business regulatory environment.

“In California, there are a lot of reasons why it’s difficult to do aquaculture,” Grimm concluded.

There are also unique challenges that come with oyster farming in the time of climate change: As the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide at an alarming rate, ocean acidification is transforming marine ecosystems. Shelled animals, like zooplankton, corals, clams, mussels and oysters, cannot grow their shells in the acidic water and the effects are especially severe at the juvenile stages.

A commitment to doing things right and sustainably plays a role in the innovations Carlsbad Aquafarm is pursuing. One is the raising of oysters more tolerant to the increasing acidity of ocean water brought about by climate change. The oysters are also more resistant to disease and generally hardier than other commercially raised shellfish.

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