Podcast – Research into the affect of ocean acidification on pteropods, the canary of the ocean

Podcast with Dr Geraint Tarling, British Antarctic Survey

Coccoliths thrive despite ocean acidification

21 May 2013, by Harriet Jarlett – Planet Earth Online

Ocean acidification is damaging some marine species while others thrive, say scientists.

An international team studied the effect of ocean acidification on plankton in the North Sea over the past forty years, to see what impact future changes may have.

The study, published in PLoS One found that different species react in different ways to changes in their environment. As carbon dioxide emissions dissolve in seawater they lower the pH of the oceans making them more acidic and more corrosive to shells.

Limacina helicina. Credit: Planet Earth

Foraminifera and coccoliths, which are small shelled plankton and algae, appear to be surviving remarkably well in the more acidic conditions. But numbers of pteropods and bivalves – such as mussels, clams and oysters – are falling.

‘Ecologically, some species are soaring, whilst others are crashing out of the system,’ says Professor Jason Hall-Spencer, of Plymouth University, who co-authored the paper.

The scientists are unsure whether this drop in certain species is because of changing pH levels, or whether it is due to a combination of stress factors like warming, overfishing and eutrophication -which results from a build up of excess nutrients in water.

‘We found no statistical connection between the abundance of calcifying plankton and the changes in pH. If pH is affecting calcifying plankton in the area then its effect is being masked by other climatic effects. What we do know is that laboratory experiments have shown pH changes affect pteropods adversely,’ he says.

Scientists had previously thought the reason species react so differently to ocean acidification was due to variations in the mineral composition of the shells.

‘The aragonite skeleton of pteropods dissolves more easily in corrosive waters than the low-magnesium calcite that typifies many clams and other molluscs,’ explains Hall-Spencer. ‘But now we think that it’s not as simple as that. It depends partly on how stressed organisms are by other factors, such as lack of food. It also depends on their shape and their ability to protect their skeletons.’

It is possible that the rising levels of CO2 are boosting coccolith numbers by causing them to photosynthesise more and produce more energy.

The scientists used a database collected by the Sir Alaistair Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, which has been continuously recording levels of plankton in the North Sea since 1931. But, despite being the best database available, it fails to monitor chemical changes, like acid levels, alongside ecological ones, like shifts in pteropod numbers.

Plankton sits at the bottom of the food chains, where it underpins all of our marine food sources. So if numbers drop significantly it could lead to food shortages, particularly in countries where people eat lots of seafood and fish.

Without improved monitoring , researchers say they will struggle to accurately test the consequences of ocean acidification.

‘CO2 is driving down the pH of water, but finding evidence for that and its ecological effects is proving tricky. Most work is done in the lab, so there’s not much good long term data on changes in the water,’ says Hall-Spencer.

Coccoliths appear to be able to cope with recent changes to their environment, the scientists don’t know how they will fare in the future.

‘We need an observing network to keep track of the effects of ocean acidification both chemically and biologically. Ecosystems are going to change, and if we want to protect fisheries, food sources and jobs we need to be forewarned,’ he concludes.

Read more: Beare D, McQuatters-Gollop A, van der Hammen T, Machiels M, Teoh SJ, et al. (2013) Long-Term Trends in Calcifying Plankton and pH in the North Sea. PLoS ONE 8(5): e61175. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061175

The UKOA Cruises’ Journals

Now you can read online all three scientific journals of the UKOA cruises in full, page by page, and it is exactly the same as the print edition.

First UKOA Cruise in the NW European Seas – June / July 2011

Read the blog here

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Second UKOA Cruise in the Arctic – June / July 2012

UKOA Arctic Cruise website

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Third UKOA Cruise in the Southern Seas January /February 2013

UKOA Antarctic Cruise website

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Annual Science Meeting and International Workshop of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network

The third Annual Science Meeting of the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOA ASM) will be on 22-24 July 2013 at the University of St Andrews, North Haugh, St Andrews, Scotland, KY16 9TF.

The second international workshop of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON) will be on 24-26 July 2013 at the same location.

Completion of our online registration form is necessary for your participation in either of the above meetings, with attendance by invitation only (details below). You will be informed within one week of registering whether your registration has been accepted and the outcome of any request for accommodation at St Andrews (in hotel-standard, university rooms), with such costs being covered by the UKOA programme.

Early registration (preferably by 31 May 2013) is advised, due to the limited availability of accommodation. Online registration will close on 30 June 2013, or earlier if maximum numbers have been reached before then.

All researchers currently (or until recently) supported by the UKOA programme are invited to the 3rd UKOA ASM, also those with formal links to the programme (eg as PAG or PEB members). Travel support is likely to be available for UKOA researchers providing oral or poster presentations as lead authors. Please discuss your proposed contribution with your consortium lead principal investigator (where appropriate). Consortium lead PIs are expected to coordinate their team’s involvement in the ASM, on the basis that the scale of that representation will be similar to previous ASMs.

UK and international participation in the 2nd GOA-ON workshop is limited to those who have received individual invitations. GOA-ON workshop participants who also wish to attend the 3rd UKOA ASM should indicate that on the relevant part of the registration form, to include the additional nights’ accommodation that will be required.

The outline schedule for both meetings is as follows:

Monday 22 July        10:00-17:30            UKOA ASM: Overview presentations, short (poster) presentations, poster sessions, discussions
Tuesday 23 July       09:00-17:30            UKOA ASM – continued
Wednesday 24 July 09:00-12:30            UKOA ASM – continued
13:30-17:00            Joint session of GOA-ON and UKOA ASM: “Observing ocean acidification and its ecosystem impacts at regional and global scale”
Thursday 25 July      09:00-18:00           GOA-ON workshop
Friday 26 July           09:00-16:00           GOA-ON workshop

For travel information, see the University of St Andrews website. Note:

Leuchars is the nearest rail station, 8km from St Andrews. There are frequent rail services from London (including overnight sleeper) and Edinburgh. From Leuchars, use a bus or taxi to complete your journey.
From Edinburgh airport, it is suggested that the airport bus is taken to the city centre (around 30 minutes, frequent service), then a train journey of around one hour from the main Edinburgh station (Waverley) to Leuchars. International participants may wish to consider spending a night in Edinburgh on their arrival and/or departure days

Queries regarding eligibility for attendance at either the UKOA ASM or GOA-ON workshop should be raised with the UKOA Science Coordinator, p.williamson(at)uea.ac.uk (+44 1603 593111). For information on other aspects, please contact Jodie Clarke.

Natural Environment Research Council, April 2013. More information.



Responses of the Emiliania huxleyi Proteome to Ocean Acidification

Jeremy Young, member of the Sea surface Ocean Acidification UK Consortium, is one of the authors in the study “Responses of the Emiliania huxleyi Proteome to Ocean Acidification”  which was published in PLOS ONE on Friday.

Below is the press release published at the NOC website. A press release for the University of California also went live on Friday.

 Press Release: Marine algae show resilience to carbon dioxide emissions

A type of marine algae could become bigger as increasing carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the oceans, according to research led by scientists based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS).

The study, published this month in PLoS ONE, investigated how a strain of the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi might respond if all fossil fuels are burned by the year 2100 – predicted to drive up atmospheric CO2 levels to over four times the present day. Specimens grown under this high CO2 scenario were compared with specimens grown under present day CO2 levels.

Example of coccoliths derived at the end of the experiment

Coccolithophores are microscopic algae that form the base of marine food chains. They secrete calcite shells which eventually sink to the seafloor and form sediments, drawing down and locking away carbon in rocks. Because of their calcitic shells, some species have been shown to be sensitive to ocean acidification, which occurs when increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2 are absorbed by the ocean, increasing seawater acidity.

But these findings suggest that not all coccolithophore species respond to ocean acidification in the same way.

“Contrary to many studies, we see that this species of coccolithophore gets bigger and possesses more calcite under worst-case scenario CO2 levels for the year 2100,” says Dr Bethan Jones, lead author and former researcher at University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science, which is based at NOCS. “They do not simply dissolve away under high CO2 and elevated acidity.”

However, the researchers also observed that cells grew more slowly under the high CO2 scenario, which could be a sign of stress.

The researchers also tested for changes in protein abundance – using a technique developed by the collaborating institutes – as well as other biochemical characteristics. They detected very few differences between the two scenarios, indicating that apart from growth, this strain of coccolithophore does not seem to be particularly affected by ocean acidification.

Co-author Professor Iglesias-Rodriguez, formerly at University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science, says: “This study suggests that this strain of Emiliania huxleyi possesses some resilience to tolerate future CO2 scenarios, although the observed decline in growth rate may be an overriding factor affecting the success of this ecotype in future oceans. This is because if other species are able to grow faster under high CO2, they may ‘outgrow’ this type of coccolithophore.

“Given that chalk production by calcifiers is the largest carbon reservoir on Earth – locking away atmospheric CO2 in ocean sediments – understanding how coccolithophores respond to climate change is a first step in developing models to predict their fate under climate pressure such as ocean acidification.”

The team used a technique called ‘shotgun proteomics’, optimised for marine microbiological research at the University of Southampton’s Centre for Proteomic Research, to detect changes in proteins under the different CO2 scenarios.

The collaborative study involved researchers at University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science (which is based at NOCS), University of Southampton Institute for Life Sciences, University of Southampton Centre for Proteomic Research, University of Cambridge, University College London and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, China.

Bethan M. Jones, M. Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez, Paul J. Skipp, Richard J. Edwards, Mervyn J. Greaves, Jeremy R. Young, Henry Elderfield, C. David O’Connor (2013) Responses of the Emiliania huxleyi proteome to ocean acidification. PLoS ONE, dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0061868

A fantastic Ocean and Earth Day at National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

Another very successful Ocean and Earth Open Day  held at NOC, Southampton on Saturday 23 March, 2013. A great turnout on a very cold day, we had over 3000 visitors attending the event, and the feedback was extremely positive.

The Sea Surface Ocean Acidification consortium (@surfaceoa) participated in the event with a poster display and information material about our research on Ocean Acidification and its impacts on marine life and ecosystem processes.

Central part in our stand was a simple experiment, a safe and easy way to show to children what their breath can do to a natural and easy-to-make acid/base indicator.

Blowing through the straw in a cabbage juice. Image Credit: Barry Marsh

The star of the show was some red cabbage juice. We poured a very small volume of the cooled juice into test tubes and we asked children to blow through a drinking straw repeatedly for a few minutes until they could see the cabbage juice turn noticeably pinker that the juice in the bottle.

What has happened?  The carbon dioxide in the breath combined with the water in the cabbage juice (cabbage is an acid indicator) to form carbonic acid, causing the pH of the solution to drop and the cabbage juice to turn pink.

Why this is interesting? About a quarter of the carbon dioxide released by activities like burning fossils fuels is absorbed by oceans and as a result the ocean weater becomes more acidic, like the cabbage juice in the experiment.

Our simple experiment was particularly successful; the children and some of the parents too, had a lot of fun blowing into the cabbage juice and after the experiment they told us that they now have a better understanding of what ocean acidification is and why it is important.

Our OED day would not happen without our volunteers

Siri Ofstad

Claudia Fry

Jiawei Wu

Mariana Ribas Ribas

… and without their enthusiasm, dedication, determination and sheer hard work, this day could not be such a success.  I’d like to take this opportunity to say again a very big THANK YOU.

More photos and a video will be made available from NOC online soon, so look out for another post in the next few weeks.

*The Other CO2 Problem

Ocean Acidification – “Time to Change”

UCLA ESS 15 ocean/climate science communication project by Thomas Li. Sung by Thomas Li and featuring Ryan Yoo on rap vocals. Parody of “Glad You Came”, by The Wanted.

Extra footage from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cqCvc…

I do not claim ownership to any of the clips from the above link, nor do I claim ownership to the instrumentals. Original lyrics by Thomas Li and Ryan Yoo.


The shells will melt
The reefs will die
And all this time emissions rise
The ocean life will never be the same
It’s time to change

When I was just a young boy
My father used to tell me about the ocean and sh*t
I never listened…

But you know what?
Things are gonna change
As of tonight
Everybody put your hands in the air
Everybody put your hands in the air
MCGB, Thomas Li in the heezy
Yeah, yeah, yeah

It’s hard to calcify, calcify
Acidic water makes it hard to thrive, hard to thrive
So oceanic life can say goodbye, say goodbye
Thanks to CO2 that we provide, you and I

To the oceans now
Now we’re watching as the fish
Fish for another prey
Pray they’ll get their wish
Wish the coral reefs survive
Survive another day
Days will go on by
And they can’t swim away
Away from all the change


Have you heard about this epidemic sweeping the nation?
It’s called two words: Ocean Acidification
CO2 plus water makes carbonic acid
You put that in the ocean and you got something’ bad kids

When the pH drops below 7
You better start praying to your god up in heaven
The problem is bad and it’s only getting worse
This is a process that must be reversed
Too much H+ impedes calcification
Shellfish with no shells is a bad situation
Half the coral reefs are already dead
And it’s coming back to us by my calculations


It’s killing all the plankton and it’s killing the reefs
The food chain is splitting right along this weak link
Save our fishy friends before they meet their end
Think of all the seafood you might never eat again

(4x) It’s time to change