Ocean Acidification Monitoring Buoys Placed in Arctic Waters

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View across Resurrection Bay. By Frank Kovalchek

Three buoys are being moored in northern oceans to collect data on ocean acidification. Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) are running this project to measure the acidification of the oceans.  The first buoy has already been placed in Resurrection Bay, near Seward, Alaska, the second will be moored in the Bering Sea and a third will be placed in the Chukchi Sea later in the year.

Why Alaska?

While these are not the first sensors to be placed to monitor ocean acidification (OA), they are the first in Alaska. This is relevant because atmospheric CO2 dissolves in cold water more readily than in the warmer waters in temperate and tropical regions. Because of increased CO2 in the atmosphere, the oceans are absorbing more, and in turn creating more carbonic acid.  The pH of the oceans is steadily decreasing. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the current surface acidity of the oceans is 30% higher than the natural pH level of the ocean.

The cold waters around Alaska are an important area for commercial fishing and provide rich feeding grounds for many species.  While the concept of OA has been predicted by forward thinking scientists for some time, the phenomena has been speeding up. There is now concern about changes in phytoplankton density.  Any effect on the base of the food chain will have multiplied effects on other marine life.

What are they looking for?

The three buoys will collect data from the surface and have an additional set of sensors near the ocean floor, close to their mooring.  Information on pH, temperature, carbon dioxide, salinity and other data will be picked up by a satellite and transmitted to the lab.  Previously, students and professors would take a boat out on the ocean and collect samples.  If the data collection from the buoys works as hoped, it will be safer, less expensive and will provide a continuous feed of information, rather than regular snapshots.

The NOAA program at PMEL makes data available using an interactive Google Earth Data Portal, showing information collected from moored and mobile collection systems.

Does it matter?

Ocean acidification is one of the most worrying aspects of climate change.

Not only will it affect the food chain but the phytoplankton in the oceans provide over half the oxygen in the atmosphere.

Sources

UAF installs first ocean acidification buoy in Alaska waters, May 11, 2011, University of Alaska News, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.  Accessed May 13, 2011.

UNEP Emerging Issues: Environmental Consequences of Ocean Acidification: A Threat to Food Security, 2010. Accessed May 13, 2011

NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Carbon Program on Ocean Acidification.  Accessed May 14, 2011.

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