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The fear that the Arctic Ocean will become corrosive to shell or skeleton forming marine organisms is likely to become reality within decades according to scientists attending a critical meeting in Plymouth UK at the end of the month. Over 100 marine scientists specialising in ocean acidification are gathering to swap experiences, share understanding and decide the path of future research into the dramatic effects resulting from excess carbon dioxide being absorbed from the atmosphere into the oceans.
Ocean acidification, often called ‘The Other CO2 Problem’, is a relatively recently recognised consequence of the continuing and growing concentration of the greenhouse gas that is pumped into the atmosphere as a by-product of various human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels. Global warming and climatic change is the side of the CO2 problem with which we are most familiar, but ocean acidification is more insidious. The oceans are a natural ‘sink’ for CO2 and because of their immense collective volume were once thought too big to be affected by humans. We now know this not to be true and it seems that they have reached the point where they can no longer absorb the gas without the oceans and the life they contain being affected, the latest threat in a growing catalogue posed by human activities.
As Dr Carol Turley, Senior Scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory said: “Ocean Acidification is real, it’s happening and it’s happening now, so it is essential for us to gain as much insight as possible to help us understand and plan for the effects that are inevitable. Even small changes are likely to have major impacts on the ocean and its food webs, including the oxygen we breathe and the fish we eat, and that means it will affect all of us.”
The scientists all work under a pan-European umbrella funded by the European Union, the European Project on OCean Acidification (EPOCA), and represent institutions and countries across Europe. In the short time the project has been running chemists, biologists, ecologists and a wide range of other scientists have worked together to gain understanding of how the lowering of ocean pH and the move towards acidity will affect the fragile balances that exist within the seas around us. Their preliminary conclusions and longer term predictions are a cause for great concern. It now seems almost certain that the Arctic Ocean’s move to acidity will be quicker than elsewhere and that it is inevitable.
Other scientists have looked at the effects on individual species in laboratory conditions, whilst a group has been working within the Arctic Circle to check their results against the animals in natural conditions. Within the harsh environment of the Arctic the scientists have had to use all of their ingenuity to overcome challenges, inventing new techniques and novel equipments to give real results.
Dr Jean-Pierre Gattuso, Senior Scientist at CNRS, the meeting’s lead organiser added: “EPOCA has been working within the Arctic Ocean and some of those results will be presented at the meeting. We know that marine organisms are being affected and this is extremely worrying. The Arctic Seas are home to some of the most magnificent wildlife on the planet; at the moment the great whales may not be affected directly, but the planktonic food they need for survival is right in the firing line. But whilst we have looked more closely at the Arctic it is not just the polar seas that will be affected, this is a global problem that requires a global initiative to meet it. This meeting will also bring together scientists and the Reference User Group (RUG – key stakeholders and users of science evidence for policy decision making), from across national and subject boundaries to discuss their findings and to make sense of what the future holds for our increasingly acidic seas.”
19 June 2009. PML News