In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the time frame of 2021-2030 as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, also known as the “Ocean Decade,” to address the degradation of the ocean and encourage innovative science initiatives to better understand and ultimately reverse its declining health.
On December 11, 2020 researchers with the Global Carbon Project released their annual update for the Global Carbon Budget. Daily global CO2 emissions are estimated to have decreased by a maximum of about 17% by early April 2020 compared to average levels in 2019. About half of this change is due to changes in surface transport, especially road transport, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research: Ocean Acidification Varies Around North America with Hot Spots Found in Northeast and West Coast Waters
New NOAA and partner research comparing ocean acidification around North America shows that the most vulnerable coastal waters are along the northern part of the east and west coasts. While previous research has looked at specific regions, the new study appearing in Nature Communications, is the first in-depth comparison of ocean acidification in all North American coastal ocean waters.
Dr. Leticia Barbero is a chemical oceanographer at NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami. In her role, she works with AOML to study the carbon dioxide system in the ocean, specifically ocean acidification in the coastal waters of the U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA and partners have launched a new buoy in Fagatele Bay within NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the waters around a vibrant tropical coral reef ecosystem. “This new monitoring effort in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean will not only advance our understanding of changing ocean chemistry in this valuable and vibrant coral ecosystem but will also help us communicate these changes to diverse stakeholders in the Pacific Islands and across the United States,” said Derek Manzello, coral ecologist with NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.
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.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, measured changes in the reef framework in several naturally high-carbon dioxide settings near Papua New Guinea. For the first time, scientists found increased activity of worms and other organisms that bore into the reef structure, resulting in a net loss of the framework that is the foundation of coral reef ecosystems.
The new research published online August 10 in Nature Climate Change provides a stark look into the future of ocean acidification – the absorption by the global oceans of increasing amounts of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. Scientists predict that elevated carbon dioxide absorbed by the global oceans will drive similar ecosystem shifts, making it difficult for coral to build skeletons and easier for other plants and animals to erode them.