14 July 2020 - Surface ocean carbon dioxide observations collected by the Marine Institute's RV Celtic Explorer, have been published in the 2020 version of the Surface Ocean Carbon Atlas (SOCAT). These data provide scientists, climate researchers, and international policy makers with essential information on ocean carbon dioxide measurements.
About 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are added to the atmosphere each year as a result of human activities. The ocean absorbs about one-quarter of these emissions, which helps to slow down climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, absorbing additional carbon dioxide increases the acidity of seawater. This process is known as ocean acidification and it could have dramatic consequences for marine life.
If sea water is too acidic, it can make it difficult for marine organisms such as coral, oysters and mussels to form shells and skeletons. Ocean acidification may impact some plankton species, which form the base of marine food webs and would impact larger animals like fish and whales. The impacts of ocean acidification would extend up the food chain, affecting fisheries and aquaculture, threatening food security for millions of people, as well as the tourism industry. Ocean acidification is a global problem. The European Union has committed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and aims to be climate-neutral by 2050 – an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
To understand the earth's changing climate, it is essential to collect high-quality data on surface ocean carbon dioxide levels. Since 2017, the Marine institute has been measuring dissolved carbon dioxide (pCO2) in Irish and Atlantic surface waters using a General Oceanics pCO2 system on board the RV Celtic Explorer. This system enables near-continuous and high-accuracy carbon dioxide measurements in surface water and the atmosphere when the vessel is at sea. The close collaboration between the Marine Institute and P&O Maritime Services, with support from GEOMAR, Germany, has resulted in the successful collection of this data.
The high-quality measurements of carbon dioxide collected by the Marine Institute are included in the 2020 version of the Surface Ocean Carbon Atlas (SOCAT), filling a notable data gap. The Marine Institute submitted data from nine surveys in 2017 and from 15 surveys in 2018. SOCAT high-quality data products are a key data set used globally by climate researchers and contribute to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). SOCAT has become a milestone in research coordination, data access, climate research and in informing policy.
This work further contributes to collaborative research on ocean carbon and acidification undertaken over the last decade by the Marine Institute and NUI Galway. Margot Cronin, Chemist at the Marine Institute said, "Measuring carbon dioxide in Irish and Atlantic waters provides essential data that increases the understanding of our oceans and climate. The Marine Institute is contributing to global science, providing advanced scientific knowledge which will help inform policy and our response to a changing ocean."
This week, the Marine Institute's Oceans of Learning series focuses on our Changing Ocean Climate. Oceans of Learning offers videos, interactive activities and downloadable resources on our coasts and seashore. To access the resources, visit A Changing Ocean Climate.