Climate change

Climate-driven changes in upwelling, ocean mixing, oxygen minimum zones, and nutrient cycling are likely to affect the year-to-year variation in ocean ecosystem processes. These changes will potentially impact marine life and the fundamental underpinnings of fisheries from shallow to deep-sea habitats. MBARI’s technical achievements and knowledge are transforming climate change research with novel methods and technologies.

MBARI design used in ocean-acidification experiments around the world

A FOCE experiment on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Image: David Kline

MBARI scientists and engineers have been developing new methods to study ocean acidification and its effects on marine organisms in their natural habitats for 15 years. Researchers around the world have been adapting MBARI instruments to perform their own experiments in habitats ranging from coral reefs to the Antarctic seafloor. These diverse projects have recently been highlighted in an article in the journal Progress in Oceanography.

Ocean acidification describes the chemical changes that occur as seawater reacts with excess carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere. Key changes in the carbonate chemistry of seawater during acidification include an increase in the partial pressure of CO2, increased acidity (reduced ocean pH), and reduced levels of carbonate ions (CO32-). These chemical changes can be physiologically challenging for organisms, disrupting their internal acid-base balance and impairing calcification of shells or skeletons, ultimately increasing the “cost of living” to cope with higher ocean carbon levels. For some organisms, particularly some marine plants, increased CO2 levels can actually enhance growth, but for many organisms, the increased CO2 can impair behavior, growth, reproduction, survival, and other life processes.

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