On December 9, 2008, a team of MBARI researchers installed the first major science experiment on the new MARS ocean observatory, almost 900 meters below the surface of Monterey Bay. This project, known as the Free-Ocean Carbon Enrichment experiment, will help researchers study the effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms.
Off the coast of Central California, in the inky darkness of the deep sea, a bright orange metal pyramid about the size of two compact cars sits quietly on the seafloor. Nestled within the metal pyramid is the heart of the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS)—the first deep-sea cabled observatory offshore of the continental United States.
t is common knowledge that the world’s oceans and atmosphere are warming as humans release more and more carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. However, fewer people realize that the chemistry of the oceans is also changing—seawater is becoming more acidic as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves in the oceans.
As carbon dioxide concentrations increase in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, the oceans are becoming more acidic. For several years, MBARI marine biologist James Barry has worked with marine chemist Peter Brewer on the Free-Ocean Carbon Enrichment experiment to study the effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms.
On July 23, 2008, MBARI’s newest remotely operated vehicle (ROV) arrived in Moss Landing, after being shipped from the manufacturer in Newcastle, England. This vehicle will replace ROV Tiburon, which since 1997 has helped researchers study the deep sea from British Columbia to Baja California to Hawaii.
Why would anyone want to go to Antarctica in the middle of winter? Well, for one thing, it’s a good place to study icebergs. In December 2005, marine ecologist Ken Smith led a team that spent a month in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, and came away with a new perspective on icebergs. Instead of just immense chunks of sterile ice, they found that some Antarctic icebergs are floating oases of life. In June 2008, Smith and his colleagues will be heading south again, this time to find out more precisely why icebergs attract so much marine life.
Marine life and marine ecosystems are already suffering from changes relating to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Many marine scientists are well aware of these changes, but are concerned that critical scientific information is not reaching decision makers. To address this communication gap, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute is hosting Ocean Science Summit 2008, a high-level conference on climate change and ocean health.
Many animals (including humans) spend a great deal of time selecting and fighting to keep their mates. Octopuses, which tend to be loners, have never been shown to engage in such complicated reproductive strategies. However, a new research paper by MBARI postdoctoral fellow Christine Huffard shows that at least one type of octopus (and probably others) do engage in elaborate “mating games.”
Its been six years since MBARI biologist Robert Vrijenhoek went looking for deep-sea clams and stumbled upon a 30-foot whale carcass. In those six years, Vrijenhoek and his team observed the ecosystem thriving around this carcass, discovered strange and wonderful worms with roots, sank five more whale carcasses to create artificial whale falls, and hauled cow bones to the seafloor to see if worms would grow on them too.
Most discussion on the impacts of climate change in the oceans has focused on sea level rise. Less well known to the public and policy makers is the continuing decrease in ocean pH resulting from increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Such ocean acidification will affect marine life across the globe and throughout the food chain. The implications for social policy could be enormous.