Questions answered about ocean acidification

November 10th, 2010 by UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme

Ocean acidification, the lowering of the ocean’s pH as a result of manmade CO₂ emissions, could have profound impacts on marine life and the valuable services it provides humankind. Latest evidence shows that seawater chemistry is already changing and only a large and rapid reduction of fossil fuel use and deforestation can help restore ocean’s health.

A guide has been launched in Monaco, “Ocean Acidification: Questions Answered”, that provides the latest science on the speed and scale of the impact that CO₂ emissions will have on the ocean and humanity.

The document states that ocean acidification is happening ten times faster than the rate which preceded the extinction of many marine species approximately 55 million years ago. If the current rate of acidification continues, fragile marine ecosystems could be seriously damaged by 2050.

Ocean Acidification: Questions Answered”, launched by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, was compiled by the pioneering Ocean Acidification Reference User Group (OARUG) and draws on the expertise of over 30 of the world’s leading marine scientists, including a team from the UK’s Ocean Acidification Research Programme.

In recent years ocean acidification has moved up the global agenda with many countries now funding national science programmes to investigate the issue; alongside the UK’s new Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOARP), programmes include the European Project on OCean Acidification (EPOCA), Germany’s BioACID and the Mediterranean’s MedSea. These programmes not only help direct the science being undertaken around the world but also, under the umbrella of OARUG, they work together to tackle and prepare for this globally significant challenge.

Dr Carol Turley, Knowledge Exchange Co-ordinator of the UKOARP and senior scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, commented “Such a monumental alteration in basic ocean chemistry could have wide implications for ocean life, especially for those organisms that require calcium carbonate to build shells or skeletons. Ocean acidification is happening everywhere but in some parts of the world the effects will be more rapid and severe.”

“It is vital that ocean acidification research is communicated to as wide an audience as possible as this issue will impact upon all of us,” Dr Turley continued.

Dan Laffoley, Vice Chair of Marine for International Union for Conservation of Nature, Marine Principal Specialist at Natural England and member of PML’s Science Advisory Council, remarked: “Climate change may be all over the headlines, but it has an evil twin, caused by the same invisible gas carbon dioxide, with more measurable, rapid and seemingly unstoppable effects. By answering the main questions people have about ocean acidification, we intend to break through the ignorance and confusion that exist, so everyone is clearer on what is happening and why this is a matter of the highest global priority.”

The “Questions Answered about Ocean Acidification” publication is available as a 3.8 mb file or as a 42 mb file from the European Project on OCean Acidification (EPOCA) website.

Ocean acidification background

Already ocean pH has decreased by about 30% since the start of the Industrial revolution and if we continue emitting CO2 at the same rate by 2100 ocean acidity will increase by about 150%, a rate that has not been experienced for at least 400,000 years. Such a monumental alteration in basic ocean chemistry is likely to have wide implications for ocean life, especially for those organisms that require calcium carbonate to build shells or skeletons.

Ocean acidification is a relatively new field of research, with most of the studies having been conducted over the last decade. While it is gaining some attention among policy makers, international leaders and the media, scientists find there is still a lack of understanding.

UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme

The five year UK’s Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOARP) is the UK’s response to growing concerns over ocean acidification and is jointly funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

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