Conservation & Science

Field studies of ocean acidification

Sometimes, research has to venture out of the lab and into the wild. That’s the basis for a long-term Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) project to study how the ocean’s changing chemistry will affect marine life.

A shallow-water Free Ocean CO2 Enrichment (FOCE) system in place near Hopkins Marine Station. Photo courtesy MBARI.

Ocean acidification is a change in seawater pH (and other elements of the ocean carbonate system) as the ocean absorbs excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This change will become more pronounced as people continue to burn fossil fuels.

“It’s important to try to get a better understanding of what impact that will have,” says George Matsumoto, senior education and research specialist at MBARI.

In a more acidic ocean, the minerals used to form calcium carbonate are less abundant, making it more difficult for marine species—from tiny sea snails to oysters and crabs—to build shells or skeletons. MBARI marine ecologist Jim Barry says researchers are working to understand the impact not just on individual animals, but also on broader ecosystems. Read more…

Science on the front lines of ocean acidification

Life seems easy for the little red tuna crabs delighting Monterey Bay Aquarium visitors. The temperature and water chemistry in their exhibit are carefully controlled and stable. In the wild, it’s a different story. Conditions are changing—fast. Crabs and other critters are in a race with time, as record levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) warm the planet and change ocean chemistry.

Our colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) are on the front line, documenting the impacts and identifying potential solutions for this serious threat to ocean health.

CO2 bubbled up slowly

For more than a century, scientists have known that burning fossil fuels warms our planet. They’ve also long been aware of another impact—this one affecting ocean chemistry.

In 1909, a brewery chemist discovered that CO2 both creates bubbles when it’s dissolved in liquid, and makes it more acidic.

In 1909, a chemist at the Carlsberg Brewery Laboratory discovered that CO2 dissolved in water not only creates tiny bubbles (like in beer). It also makes liquid more acidic. In other words, our burning of fossil fuels is changing the chemistry of the ocean, a process called ocean acidification.

The impact of rising atmospheric CO2 developed slowly and subtly. By the 1960s, however, climatologists began raising alarms. Decades later, Al Gore’s landmark book and movie, An Inconvenient Truth, framed climate change as an urgent threat to human survival. As the scientific community worked to build accurate models of climate dynamics and explore ways to deal with rampant carbon, some eyed the ocean—which absorbs 25 percent to 30 percent of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere—as a solution. Could we stash even more atmospheric carbon in the sea, sparing the planet the worst impacts of global warming? Read more…

We’re taking action on climate change

The science could not be clearer: Earth’s climate and ocean chemistry are changing, and carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are the primary driver.

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Aquarium employees reduce their carbon emissions by using alternative transportation.

As an organization grounded in science, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is as committed now as it ever has been to our mission of inspiring conservation of the ocean.

It’s important to us to work in the wider world, to engage with folks like you, and to walk the talk in our own business operations. That’s why we’re making changes that reduce our carbon emissions—and that we hope will inspire others to help shrink humanity’s global carbon footprint.

What we continue to do

Here at the Aquarium, we’re upgrading our infrastructure and transforming our business practices to reduce the emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Read more…

COP22 in Marrakech: World climate talks get down to the nitty-gritty

Last December in Paris, more than 180 nations came together for the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2015, also known as COP21. The resulting Paris Agreement is the strongest-ever international commitment to reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning.

The Paris Agreement enters into force today, just before the November 7 start of the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2016 (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco.

COP21 signaled that the world’s nations agree: Climate change is real and having a serious impact on our planet. COP22 takes the next step—it marks the point at which the global community begins to act.

Read more…

Change of Heart: How carbon emissions imperil the ocean

From Nov. 30-Dec. 11, leaders from more than 190 nations will gather in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP21. The conference aims to achieve a binding international agreement to slow the pace of climate change. If we as a global community take bold and meaningful action in Paris, we can change course and leave our heirs a better world. In advance of COP21, Monterey Bay Aquarium is working to raise public awareness about the serious ways our carbon emissions affect ocean health, including ocean acidification, warming sea waters and other impacts on marine life. Today’s post comes from our award-winning Climate Interpreter, Sarah-Mae Nelson.


 

A wonderful part of working for the Aquarium is experiencing the life of Monterey Bay. Every time I leave my desk to watch birds, otters, dolphins and whales from our back deck, I’m freshly inspired to conserve the ocean.

Sarah Mae Nelson
Sarah-Mae Nelson

At this moment in history, I’m inspired to protect the ocean from the biggest threat it has ever faced. That threat is rampant carbon dioxide.

 

Read more…

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