The ability to predict Earth’s future climate relies upon monitoring efforts to determine the fate of carbon dioxide emissions. For example, how much carbon stays in the atmosphere or becomes stored in the oceans or on land? The oceans in particular have helped to slow climate change as they absorb and then store carbon dioxide for thousands of years.
The new research published by NOAA and international partners in Science finds as carbon dioxide emissions have increased in the atmosphere, the ocean has absorbed a greater volume of emissions. Though the volume of carbon dioxide going into the ocean is increasing, the percentage of emissions — about 31 percent — absorbed by it has remained relatively stable when compared to the first survey of carbon in the global ocean published in 2004.
Existing observations show that Indian Ocean surface water temperatures have been increasing since the 1970’s. But has the deep ocean warmed? Have the regional concentrations of dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, or nutrients changed? Has the western Indian Ocean become more acidic? These and more questions will be addressed by scientists after the completion of this cruise.
On July 18, NOAA AOML and partner scientists will depart on the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Carbon Cycle (GOMECC-3) research cruise in support of NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Monitoring Program. This isn’t the first time researchers will head to sea in this region. Previous cruises have taken place along the east and Gulf of Mexico (GOM) coasts of the US in both 2007 and 2012. Together, these cruises provide coastal ocean measurements of unprecedented quality that are used both to improve our understanding of where ocean acidification (OA) is happening and how ocean chemistry patterns are changing over time. This will be the most comprehensive OA cruise to date in this region, set to include sampling in the international waters of Mexico for the first time. Ocean acidification is a global issue with global impacts, and international collaboration like this is vital to understanding and adapting to our changing oceans.
Coral researchers at AOML unveiled a new state of the art experimental laboratory this spring at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel campus. The new “Experimental Reef Laboratory” will allow NOAA scientists and colleagues to study the molecular mechanisms of coral resiliency. Modeling studies indicate that thermal stress and ocean acidification will worsen in the coming decades. Scientists designed the Experimental Reef Laboratory to study the combined effect of these two threats, and determine if some corals are able to persist in a changing environment.
Coral scientists recently traveled to the Galapagos Islands to document coral reef health following the 2016-17 El Niño Southern Oscillation event (ENSO), which bathed the region in abnormally warm waters. Historically, these events have triggered coral bleaching and large-scale mortality, as seen in response to ENSO events of 1982-83 and 1997-98. Interestingly, these same reefs exhibited minimal bleaching in response to this most recent event. Scientists are determining whether this response is due to differing levels of heat stress, or an increased tolerance to warm water in the remnant coral communities.
A research vessel ploughs through the waves, braving the strong westerly winds of the Roaring Forties in the Southern Ocean in order to measure levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in the surface of the ocean. (Nicolas Metzl, LOCEAN/IPSL Laboratory).