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– International Coordination Centre for ocean acidification set to open
– Marine experts warn “life throughout the world’s oceans will have to adapt rapidly to new conditions”
– But, there are winners and losers. Some species may have the genetic diversity to adapt; others will suffer.
– Wendy Schmidt sponsors Ocean Health X Prize to spur innovation in marine science technology
– New ocean acidification in Google Earth Tour
Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre
His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco announced the launch of a new international centre to coordinate ocean acidification on the final day of a major international conference on ocean acidification, Monterey, Calif. At a cost of two million U.S. dollars for three years, the centre – based at the International Atomic Energy Agency Environment Laboratories in Monaco – will help coordinate international research and link science and policy.
Prince Albert II told the conference, “Supported by among others the Government of Monaco and my Foundation, an Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre has been set up in Monaco within the premises of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Marine Environment Laboratories. It represents not only an enormous source of pride for myself but also gives me real hopes for the future.”
X-Prize for ocean health
At the same event, to spur technological innovation in ocean health, the X-Prize foundation announced the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X-Prize to challenge entrepreneurs across the globe to “replace today’s expensive, cumbersome and slow pH monitoring systems” with new systems that are portable and easily deployable in any conditions.
Wendy Schmidt, from the Schmidt Family Foundation, spoke to the symposium participants and delegates from the Blue Ocean Film Festival, also taking place in Monterey in the same week, “Working intensively together to gather data we can advance rapidly the understanding of an urgent problem and accelerate the pace of our response.” The new X-Prize will be launched in 2013.
Ocean acidification experts gathered in Monterey are increasingly concerned with how marine organisms will adapt to new “corrosive” conditions, particularly organisms with hard calcium carbonate shells or exoskeletons such as oysters, mussels, corals and some phytoplankton, which form the base of the ocean food chain.
The aquaculture industry is already affected. Shellfish hatcheries in Washington State and Oregon are now measuring pH levels and avoid using waters with potential corrosive properties.
The four-day symposium brought together the world’s leading experts in a research field that is expanding rapidly. The first such international symposium in 2004 attracted just 125 researchers. In 2008, the event brought 227 academics to Monaco. This year, 547 researchers descended on Monterey. For the first time economic and policy issues featured prominently.
Some shellfish farms now routinely measure pH
On the final day of the conference, ocean acidification expert, marine ecologist Dr Joan Kleypas from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, addressed policymakers, the media, conservationists and filmmakers, “This is not a problem in the far distant future. This is a problem now. The ocean is 30% more acidic than it was 250 years ago.”
“It is remarkable how fast carbon dioxide emissions are altering ocean chemistry. We already see impacts on the shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest.”
There will be winners and losers as a result of ocean acidification. Research discussed at the conference suggests some types of red tides – toxic algal blooms harmful to shellfish and humans if ingested – may become more prevalent in places.
Kicking the CO2 habit
Dr Kleypas described the ocean’s current predicament as akin to the multiple health problems associated with smoking. “Until the patient kicks the habit, doctors have to treat the symptoms not the cause.”
“With smoking, doctors encourage patients to cut down on other damaging habits or activities, such as drinking or becoming overstressed at work.”
Likewise, humans are creating health problems for the oceans. “Until we kick the CO2 habit, we are just treating the symptoms.”
On a global scale, ocean acidification is happening at an unprecedented rate, and marine life will have to adapt rapidly to new conditions. We see that some species can adapt which gives us hope, but others will decline, and still others will go extinct, remarked Dr Kleypas.
“The net effect is that many marine ecosystems will change in unpredictable ways.”
Consensus is growing within the scientific community as to the threat posed by ocean acidification. Dr Jean Pierre Gattuso, a member of the scientific committee of the ocean acidification symposium, publishes a paper shortly in the journal Climatic Change that assessed the expert consensus in this field. Dr Gattuso said, “Concerning the chemistry of the future ocean, it is largely accepted that, over the next century, assuming business as usual carbon dioxide emissions, ocean acidification will continue at a rate faster than non-anthropogenic acidification has ever occurred in the past 55 million years.”
“Similarly, there was general agreement that the magnitude of future anthropogenic ocean acidification depends on our carbon dioxide emissions.”
New ocean acidification in Google Earth Tour
At the event in Monterey, Google, a sponsor of the Blue Ocean Film Festival also held in the city, launched a tour in Google Earth. The video, narrated by Dan Laffoley chair of Europe’s Ocean Acidification Reference User Group, explores the phenomenon of ocean acidification and explains why even small changes to ocean chemistry could have profound implications for marine life and future economic activities.
Using data visualization, the tour tracks how the ocean is predicted to change in the coming centuries as fossil-fuel emissions continue on their current trajectory. An animated sequence, created by Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-ESM), takes the viewer from the year 1950 to 2300. Researchers have concluded that current rates of acidification are faster than at any point in the last 300 million years. The cool waters of the Arctic and Antarctic are affected most, but all the world’s oceans are already feeling the impact.
You can view the ocean acidification tour in Google Earth here:
The event also saw the release of several new guides to ocean acidification.
“The new knowledge and multimedia guides released today open up ocean acidification so everyone can explore from their desktops what our current carbon dioxide emissions may mean to the ocean, and to us, in the very near future,” said Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and Chair of Europe’s Ocean Acidification Reference User Group.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this press release are those of individual scientists and may not represent the views of conference sponsors.
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, 27 September 2012. Article.