Remote sensors and research cruises aim to measure aquatic impacts of carbon dioxide.
A global effort to track ocean acidification has begun to take shape, as researchers this week made plans to set up an international network of monitoring stations.
The seas absorb roughly one-quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere each year. This makes the water more acidic, and can affect sea creatures, even weakening the calcium carbonate shells or skeletons of organisms such as corals, oysters and some types of marine plankton.
Researchers estimate that ocean acidity has risen by about 30% since the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, but they need better data to improve assessments of where the problem is most severe, and to model future trends.
Much of what is known about acidification comes from a handful of open-ocean sites that scientists have returned to monthly for the past few decades, and from research cruises that span the globe. “It’s a very expensive way to do monitoring,” says Richard Feely, an oceanographer at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington.