35 scientists from 12 countries led by the Leibniz Institute for Ocean Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) studied for 6 weeks the effects that increasing CO2 concentrations would have on life in the sea. Read here (German).Human emissions of CO2 lead to higher concentrations in sea water and thus lower its pH value. The study is led by marine biologist Prof. Dr. Ulf Riebesell, who explains:
This phenomenon can lead to drastic changes in maritime life systems. Calcium forming organisms like shellfish, snails and microscopic plankton, which are at the base of the food chain, react sensitively to ocean acidification.
Cold water can absorb more CO2, and so ocean acidification will occur earlier and more intensely in the Arctic than in other regions, according to the IFM-GEOMAR press release.
Scientists anchored nine 17-meter long tubes in the Kongsfjord of northwest Spitzbergen. These jumbo sized test tubes held a water column of 50 cubic meters and were subjected to various concentrations of CO2.
According to Dr. Riebesell:
We simulated conditions that we expect to see 20, 40 and 60 years in the future.
As the scientists took measurements and samples daily, they observed changes in the seawater and the enclosed life systems. The simulated ocean acidification led to unexpectedly large changes in the production activity of the plankton with considerable impacts on the release of climate-relevant gases and in turnover rates of important elements in the seawater.
The scientists took measurements and samples for 6 weeks. Every day 300 liters of water were removed from the large tubes and analysed. With over 60 measurement parameters and tens of thousands values, this will be the most comprehensive experimental data set ever taken in studying ocean acidification, according to the press release. Dr. Riebesell says:
We expect to make a great jump in the research of ocean acidification.
Currently the large tubes are now being removed from Kongsfjord. For this job, the scientists are getting assistance from Greenpeace, who have put their vessel ESPERANZA at their disposal.
Greenpeace is on expedition in the Arctic this summer to record the life systems on the sea floor of the Arctic Ocean for the first time and to continue work on glacier melt in Greenland. (Yeah right! Science by an environmental activist group – I wonder what kind of results they’ll come up with!)
The Greenpeace ESPERANZA vessel is expected to arrive in Kiel on July 22. The ship will be open to the public at the IFM-GEOMAR pier on July 24-25.
EPOCA (European Project on Ocean Acidification) started the project in May 2008. The project involves more than 100 scientists from 27 institutes from 9 countries (and Greenpeace). The project will be 4 years long and is funded by the European Commission.