With increasing levels of carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere and moving into marine systems, the world's oceans are becoming more acidic. Reference samples of seawater are processed in Andrew Dickson's lab to ensure uniform measurements of carbon dioxide and alkalinity in seawater.
To address the growing concern of acidifying marine ecosystems, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded 21 grants, including awards to scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, under the Ocean Acidification theme of NSF's Climate Research Investment. The projects will foster research on the nature, extent and effects of ocean acidification on marine environments and organisms in the past, present and future-from tropical systems to icy seas.
At Scripps, Marine Chemistry Professor Andrew Dickson will use an associated Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant from NSF to create a laboratory system that will enable researchers from a broad array of disciplines to study marine organisms under various controlled seawater conditions - including states that they might encounter under various acidification scenarios.
"It opens up possibilities for more Scripps scientists to do this kind of research," said Dickson.
The $300,000 project is mostly supported by the NSF grant. Additional funding came from private sources.
Animal species from pteropods-delicate, butterfly-like planktonic drifters-to hard corals are affected by ocean acidification, as are the unseen microbes that fuel ocean productivity and influence the chemical functioning of ocean waters. As oceans become more acidic, the balance of molecules needed for shell-bearing organisms to manufacture shells and skeletons is altered. The physiology of many marine species, from microbes to fish, may be affected. A myriad of chemical reactions and cycles are influenced by the pH of the oceans.
Scripps biological oceanographer Lisa Levin will work under an NSF grant to assess pH exposures in living organisms. Levin and her colleagues Ariel Anbar, Gwyneth Gordon and Achim Hermann from Arizona State University will determine if the chemical composition of carbonate structures in squid and mussel larvae reflects changes in seawater chemistry driven by ocean acidification and, in some instances, with associated decline in oxygen levels.
"Because squid and mussels (and other mollusks) retain their larval structures as juveniles and adults, we hope ultimately to assess whether their pH exposure as larvae affects later success in life," Levin said.
The project will enlist experts in ecology, metal isotope geochemistry and paleoclimatology to identify new proxies for ocean acidification.
"Earth system history informs our understanding of the effects of ocean acidification on the present-day and future ocean," says Tim Killeen, NSF assistant director for geosciences. "For a true comprehension of how acidification will change the oceans, we must integrate paleoecology with marine chemistry, physics and ecology, and an understanding of the past environmental conditions on Earth."
"Ocean acidification likely affects marine ecosystems, life histories, food webs and biogeochemical cycling," said Karl Erb, director of NSF's Office of Polar Programs. "We need to understand the chemistry of ocean acidification and its interplay with marine biochemical and physiological processes before Earth's seas become inhospitable to life as we know it."
NSF's ocean acidification award investigators will use diverse approaches such as observational systems, experimental studies, theory and modeling, says Erb, to make important new discoveries about how we're changing the world's oceans. The awards are supported and managed by NSF's Office of Polar Programs, Directorate for Geosciences and Directorate for Biological Sciences.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical, and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today on every continent and in every ocean. The institution has a staff of more than 1,400 and annual expenditures of approximately $195 million from federal, state, and private sources. Scripps operates robotic networks and one of the largest U.S. academic fleets. Birch Aquarium at Scripps serves as the interpretive center of the institution and showcases Scripps research and a diverse array of marine life through exhibits and programming for more than 430,000 visitors each year. Learn more at scripps.ucsd.edu.
About UC San Diego
The University of California, San Diego is a student-centered, research-focused, service-oriented public institution that provides opportunity for all. Recognized as one of the top 15 research universities worldwide and born of a culture of collaboration, UC San Diego sparks discoveries that advance society, drive economic growth and positively impact the world. Our students, who learn from Nobel laureates, MacArthur Fellows and National Academy members, are committed to public service. For the sixth consecutive year, UC San Diego has been ranked first in the nation based on research, civic engagement and social mobility. We are one campus with multiple pillars of excellence, a top ten public university that is transforming lives, shaping new disciplines and advancing the frontiers of knowledge. Learn more at www.ucsd.edu.