The UK research vessel RRS Discovery left Liverpool yesterday on the first research cruise specifically to study ocean acidification in European waters. Twenty four scientists from eight different UK institutes, led by the National Oceanography Centre Southampton, will carry out the science.
The cruise will range across northwest European seas, circumnavigate the British Isles, and visit the territorial waters of seven different nations. It is expected to end on 11 July 2011.
Through land use changes and the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) for energy, humans are releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. This anthropogenic CO2 release is notorious as the likely cause of global warming. However, it is also responsible for another potentially major environmental problem ocean acidification.
"More than two billion tonnes of carbon are entering the ocean as CO2 every year, over and above the natural amount," explained consortium leader Dr Toby Tyrrell of the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES), based at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton. "This extra CO2 is making seawater more acidic, with consequences for marine life that remain poorly understood."
On the cruise, the researchers will study the impact of the changing chemistry on marine organisms and ecosystems, on the cycling of carbon and nutrients in the sea, and on how the sea interacts with the atmosphere to influence climate.
They will do this in three main ways. 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
|Contact: Dr. Rory Howlett|
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK)