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.
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.