Cruise to investigate impacts of ocean acidification

Jun 07, 2011
This schematic shows the planned track of RRS Discovery during the research cruise. Stars indicate locations where seawater will be collected for shipboard experiments at elevated CO2 levels. Credit: UKOA

The UK research vessel RRS Discovery left Liverpool yesterday on the first research cruise specifically to study ocean acidification in European waters. Twenty four scientists from eight different UK institutes, led by the National Oceanography Centre Southampton, will carry out the science.

The cruise will range across northwest European seas, circumnavigate the British Isles, and visit the of seven different nations. It is expected to end on 11 July 2011.

Through land use changes and the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and ) for energy, humans are releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This anthropogenic CO2 release is notorious as the likely cause of global warming. However, it is also responsible for another potentially major – ocean acidification.

"More than two billion tonnes of carbon are entering the ocean as CO2 every year, over and above the natural amount," explained consortium leader Dr Toby Tyrrell of the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES), based at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton. "This extra CO2 is making seawater more acidic, with consequences for marine life that remain poorly understood."

On the cruise, the researchers will study the impact of the changing chemistry on marine organisms and ecosystems, on the cycling of carbon and nutrients in the sea, and on how the sea interacts with the to influence climate.

They will do this in three main ways. Their first approach will be to look at how the microscopic organisms living in surface waters vary between places where the chemistry of seawater is naturally more acidic or alkaline. By contrasting the observations over a range of different conditions, they hope to improve understanding of how acidification affects organisms living in their natural environment, where natural selection and adaptation have had time to play out.

Their second approach will be to conduct experiments using tanks of natural seawater collected from the surface of the sea and brought into a controlled laboratory on deck. The natural seawater (and the microbes it contains) will then be subjected to various levels of that may occur in the future. This cruise will conduct the largest ever experiment to examine the effects of changing CO2 levels on real world samples out at sea as opposed to in the laboratory.

Professor Eric Achterberg of SOES is Principal Scientist on the research cruise. He said: "We are especially interested how the high CO2 conditions predicted for the future will affect the seawater and the organisms that live in it. Our ship-board studies will give a glimpse into what may happen to the sea as a whole as atmospheric CO2 continues to rise."

In a third approach, researchers from Heriot-Watt University will be studying how ocean acidification may affect deep-sea corals. Unlike tropical corals, these cold-water species thrive at depth in chilly waters. The only known inshore coral reef in UK waters was discovered east of the Hebridean island of Mingulay by Dr Murray Roberts in 2003. Dr Sebastian Hennige and Dr Laura Wicks will carefully sample this reef to collect live corals. They will run a series of experiments on board ship to monitor coral growth and physiology, before embarking on a long-term experiment to grow these corals under predicted future climate scenarios at Heriot-Watt's new cold-water coral research laboratory in Edinburgh.

"Patience is the name of the game in this work – cold-water corals grow slowly and it will take the best part of two years to complete the experiments," said Dr Roberts.

The research is part of the UK research programme (UKOA), funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and two government departments, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The participating institutes are as follows: University of Southampton; National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and Liverpool; Plymouth Marine Laboratory; Heriot-Watt University; University of East Anglia; University of Essex; Marine Biological Association; and the University of Oxford.

Explore further: US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

More information: You can follow the cruise at noc.ac.uk/news/rrs-discovery-cruise-366-6-june-2011

Provided by National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ocean acidification threatens cold-water coral ecosystems

Apr 03, 2006

Corals don't only occur in warm, sun-drenched, tropical seas; some species are found at depths of three miles or more in cold, dark waters throughout the world's oceans. Some cold-water coral reefs are home to more than 1,300 ...

CO2 hurts reef growth

Jul 11, 2007

Coral reefs are at risk of going soft, quite literally turning to mush as rising carbon dioxide levels prevent coral from forming tough skeletons, according to UQ research.

Recommended for you

US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

Apr 18, 2014

The United States announced Friday a fresh delay on a final decision regarding a controversial Canada to US oil pipeline, saying more time was needed to carry out a review.

New research on Earth's carbon budget

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...