PA­CIFIC OCEAN ACID­ITY UNTESTED

Re­searchers and aca­demics from the Univer­sity of the South Pa­cific are now be­ing trained to mon­i­tor, mea­sure and com­pare the acid­ity lev­els in the Pa­cific Ocean.

Fiji Sun - - Big Story - Nee­lam Prasad Co­ral reefs in danger Edited by Naisa Koroi Feed­back: nee­[email protected]­jisun.com.fj

Agroup of re­searchers and aca­demics from the Univer­sity of the South Pa­cific will soon ac­quire the knowl­edge and skills to mea­sure and com­pare acid­ity lev­els in the Pa­cific Ocean.

Over the past week, the group were be­ing trained to mon­i­tor and test ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion. Ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion is pre­dicted to im­pact marine or­gan­isms and dam­age co­ral reefs, but un­til re­cently there is no data in the Pa­cific re­gion to ac­tu­ally mea­sure and com­pare acid­ity lev­els.

The train­ing was con­ducted by Noah Howins and Ali­cia Cheripka of the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric

Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA), based in the United States of Amer­ica (USA).

Ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion refers to chem­i­cal changes to the ocean as a re­sult of in­creased car­bon diox­ide (CO2) emis­sions.

“About 26 per cent of at­mo­spheric CO2 emis­sions get ab­sorbed by the ocean an­nu­ally,” Ms Cheripka said. “The av­er­age ocean pH (acid­ity) is 8.1, which is ba­sic, but with ad­di­tional CO2, it makes sea­wa­ter more acidic. In time it will af­fect marine or­gan­isms, es­pe­cially the ones that form shells like oys­ters, mus­sels and corals. “Or­gan­isms that form shells and skele­tons from cal­cium car­bon­ate will not be able to do so.”

She said co­ral growth was al­ready affected by warm­ing oceans and acid­i­fi­ca­tion would add to the prob­lem. It is pre­dicted to have dras­tic im­pacts on co­ral reefs.

Ms Cheripka, who is part of the Global Ocean Acid­i­fi­ca­tion Ob­serv­ing Network, said they re­alised that there was a need in many re­gions such as the Pa­cific Is­lands to start ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion mon­i­tor­ing.

“We do not know what is go­ing on in this re­gion in terms of ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion be­cause we do not have any his­tor­i­cal data to com­pare it against,” she said.

“We sup­plied re­searchers and seven dif­fer­ent uni­ver­si­ties with ocean mon­i­tor­ing kits called ‘Go On Kits’ and they are slowly get­ting equip­ment and train­ing for about a year now.

“So now they are col­lect­ing data, building that base­line and over time, we will be able to tell the changes.”

With this train­ing, local re­searchers will have the abil­ity to test ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion lev­els and study if marine species are mi­grat­ing be­cause of it. “The group at USP is look­ing at us­ing man­groves to mit­i­gate ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and they can fol­low on that as well,” Ms Cheripka said.

“The data they col­lect will be put on­line through the Go On data por­tal and ev­ery­one can access it. We have an ex­pe­ri­enced sci­en­tist look­ing over the data mak­ing sure it is qual­ity as­sured,” she said.

What this means for Pa­cific coun­tries is that when they will go to in­ter­na­tional plat­forms such as Con­fer­ence of Par­ties (COP) meet­ings, and talk about ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and cli­mate change, they will have data to back up their ar­gu­ments. Ms Cheripka also warned that the Pa­cific’s rich co­ral reefs could be in danger as ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion adds to the cli­mate stres­sors al­ready present in the form of in­creas­ing ocean tem­per­a­tures.

“Stud­ies in labs show cal­cium car­bon­ate shells dis­solv­ing over time due to acid­i­fi­ca­tion. This is pre­dicted to hap­pen in the ocean and reefs as well,” she said.

“It af­fects the co­ral’s abil­ity to grow and can leave them vul­ner­a­ble to break­ing. A big stres­sor event is bleach­ing which is caused by heat. So, now the corals have to re­cover from the heat event and deal with ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion as well, so it makes re­cov­ery a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing.” Warmer ocean tem­per­a­tures cause corals to ex­pel the al­gae liv­ing in­side. As a re­sult, the corals turn white. Ms Cheripka said corals could sur­vive a bleach­ing event, but with other stres­sors like ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, they might not be able to re­cover.

The re­searchers are also look­ing at corals that might be more re­silient to ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion.

Ali­cia Cheripka.

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