RRS Discovery to investigate impacts of ocean acidification

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The UK research vessel RRS Discovery recently left Liverpool specifically to study ocean acidification in European waters.

The cruise, expected to end on the July 11, 2011 will take in northwest European seas, circumnavigate the British Isles and visit seven different territories.

"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."

Researchers will study the impact of changing chemistry on marine organisms and ecosystems, how the sea interacts with the atmosphere and the cycling of carbon nutrients in the sea.

This will be done using three approaches:

  • By looking at how microscopic organisms in surface waters vary between places where seawater is naturally more acidic or alkaline.
  • By conducting experiments via an on-board laboratory using tanks of natural seawater; subjecting them to the various expected future levels of carbon dioxide
  • By studying the effects of ocean acidification on deep-sea corals; this research will be conducted on corals sampled from the UK’s only known inshore coral reef that lies east of the Hebridean island of Mingulay.  Initial research will be done on-board, before longer term research is conducted at Heriot-Watt's new cold-water coral research laboratory in Edinburgh.

The research is part of the UK Ocean Acidification research programme (UKOA), funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and two government departments, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The science will be carried out by 24 scientists from the following institutes: University of Southampton; National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and Liverpool; Plymouth Marine Laboratory; Heriot-Watt University; University of East Anglia; University of Essex; Marine Biological Association; and the University of Oxford.

You can follow an interesting blog of the cruise and visit the UK Ocean Acidification website for more information.

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