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The global ocean naturally acts as a reservoir for carbon dioxide (CO2) and has absorbed about a third of the total CO2 produced by human activities in the past 200 years. This uptake of CO2 has greatly slowed the rate of human-driven climate change. It is also responsible for major changes to ocean chemistry, known as ocean acidification, with potentially serious implications for marine life.
Polar seas, such as the Arctic Ocean, are expected to be especially sensitive to the effects of ocean acidification, since more CO2 dissolves in cold water, making Arctic waters a valuable “real world” example of how the marine environment will respond to a high CO2 world. Also the sensitivity of surface seawater in the Arctic will mean that they become corrosive to calcium carbonate before anywhere else in the world, which could pose a problem for marine plankton and other organisms that use calcium carbonate for their shells or skeletons.
As the UK approaches summer, a team of adventurous scientists will be setting sail for far chillier climes. 30 researchers from eight laboratories will leave the UK on 1st June 2012 to study the effect of ocean acidification on the Norwegian, Barents and Greenland Seas. They will travel as far north as polar ice will allow, collecting seawater samples from both the open water and gaps in the sea-ice
During the expedition, the scientists will study the impact of the changing chemistry on marine organisms and ecosystems, the cycling of carbon and nutrients in the sea and how the sea interacts with the atmosphere to influence climate.
To achieve this two approaches will be used. Firstly, the researchers will look at how ecosystems vary between places where the chemistry of seawater is naturally more acidic or alkaline. By contrasting the observations over a range of different conditions, insights will be provided on how acidification may affect organisms living in their natural environment, where natural selection and adaptation have had time to play out.
The second approach is experimental, using tanks of natural seawater collected from the upper ocean and brought into controlled conditions on deck. This natural seawater will be subjected to various levels of carbon dioxide that are likely to occur in the future.
The expedition, aboard the RRS James Clark Ross, will end on 4th July, in Reykjavik, Iceland.
British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
Geraint Tarling Vicki Peck Seth Thomas Luke Collins
Marine Biological Association (MBA)
National Oceanography Centre (NOC) – University of Southampton
Eric Achterberg Eithne Tynan Gianna Battaglia Sara Fowell, Mariana Ribas Ribas Matthew Humphreys Victoire Rerolle Tingting Shi Mark Moore Sophie Richier Tiera–Brandy Colleen Robinson Jeff Benson
Alex Poulton Fred Le Moigne Sinhue Torres-Valdes Chris Daniels Helen Smith Mike Zubkov Polly Hill Ben Russell
Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
Darren Clark Ian Brown John Stephens Frances Hopkins
Scottish Association from Marine Science (SAMS)
Ray Leakey Elaine Mitchell
University College London (UCL)
The research is part of the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOA), funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).