First ocean acidifcation cruise in European waters
06 June 2011
The first research cruise specifically to study ocean acidification in European waters left Liverpool recently for 1 month until 11th July 2011. Twenty four scientists from eight different UK institutes will carry out the science, as part of the UKOA programme, and will sail across the northwest European seas, circumnavigate the British Isles then visit the territorial waters of seven different nations.
Aboard the cruise, led by the the National Oceanography Centre Southampton, researchers 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. 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 deck laboratory. The natural seawater (and the microbes it contains) will then be subjected to various levels of CO2 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 laboratory-based experiments.
Professor Eric Achterberg, from the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES), is Principal Scientist on the research cruise. He said: “We are especially interested in 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 will be studying how ocean acidification may affect deep-sea corals. Unlike tropical corals, these cold-water species thrive deep in chilly waters and researchers will carefully sample this reef to collect live corals to run a series of experiments on board to monitor coral growth and physiology. Following this a long-term experiment will be set up 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 Murray Roberts of Heriot-Watt University.
The participating institutes are the 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.
You can follow the research cruise blog here.