Global Scientists Draw Attention to Threat of Ocean Acidification


More than 150 leading marine scientists from 26 countries are calling for immediate action by policymakers to sharply reduce CO2 emissions so as to avoid widespread and severe damage to marine ecosystems from ocean acidification.

The scientists issued this warning today in the Monaco Declaration, a statement based on the conclusions of participants at last October's 2nd international symposium on The Ocean in a High-CO2 World.

Prof. Andrew Dickson, a marine chemist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego and Prof. Victoria Fabry, a visiting research scientist at Scripps, were among the signatories to the declaration.

The scientists note that ocean acidification is already detectable and is accelerating. They caution that its negative impacts can be avoided only by limiting future atmospheric CO2 levels.

"Studies presented at the Monaco meeting further highlighted the likely problems of ocean acidification to our oceans," said Dickson. "I am glad to be a signatory to this declaration, and look forward to working with my colleagues to improve our knowledge of this important area and to communicate that knowledge to a wider audience."

It is well established among researchers that the uptake of increased amounts of carbon dioxide will make ocean water more acidic as the gas dissolves to create carbonic acid. Ocean chemistry is changing 100 times more rapidly than in the 650,000 years that preceded the modern industrial era and since the late 1980s, researchers at Scripps Oceanography and others have recorded an overall drop in the pH of the oceans from 8.16 to 8.05.

This increased acidity can hamper the ability of a wide variety of marine organisms ranging from coral to abalone to form calcium carbonate shells and skeletonal structures. Researchers believe that at crucial stages in the larval and juvenile stages in the lives of many marine invertebrates, ocean acidification inhibits calcification, and also appears to affect reproduction and growth in some organisms.

Scripps Oceanography is emerging as an international center of ocean acidification research. Late Scripps geochemist Charles David Keeling is best known for his famous record of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations known as the Keeling Curve, but he also started the first time series of ocean carbon dioxide content in 1983 near Bermuda. Dickson established the reference standards for measurements of carbon dioxide content and alkalinity of ocean water that have helped researchers accurately measure trends in acidification over the past 20 years. Additionally Scripps researchers have deployed one carbon dioxide sensor off the California coast and have plans to launch two more in 2009.

"This declaration clearly articulates the urgency of the problem of ocean acidification and the potential severity of its impacts to marine ecosystems," said Fabry, a marine biologist who also works as a professor at Cal State University, San Marcos.

Prince Albert II of Monaco has urged political leaders to heed the Monaco Declaration as they prepare for climate negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen this year.

"I strongly support this declaration, which is in full accord with my efforts and those of my Foundation to alleviate climate change," he said.

Scripps Director Tony Haymet and Prince Albert recently met to consider ways in which Scripps and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation could marshal their resources in one or more joint scientific collaborations to better understand and address the growing threat of ocean acidification.

"Scripps and Monaco have a shared commitment to meet this challenge," Haymet said. "We are working toward creating a partnership on ocean acidification, knowing our combined expertise and resources will have a much greater impact."

The Monaco Declaration is based on the Research Priorities Report developed by participants at last October's 2nd international symposium on The Ocean in a High-CO2 World, organized by UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP), with the support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and several other partners.

"The chemistry is so fundamental and changes so rapid and severe that impacts on organisms appear unavoidable," said James Orr of the Marine Environment Laboratories (MEL-IAEA) and chairman of the symposium. "The questions are now how bad will it be and how soon will it happen. The report from the symposium summarizes the state of the science and priorities for future research, while the Monaco Declaration implores political leaders to launch urgent actions to limit the source of the problem."

"In order to advance the science of ocean acidification, we need to bring together the best scientists to share their latest research results and to set priorities for research to improve our knowledge of the processes and of the impacts of acidification on marine ecosystems," explained Patricio Bernal, Executive Secretary of UNESCO IOC. "The Ocean in a High-CO2 World Symposia Series provides this forum to scientists every four years, and the Research Priorities Report it produces represents an authoritative assessment of what we know about acidification impacts."

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