New funding to study ocean acidification

September 22, 2014

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has released 11.4 million dollars in grants to study the effects of acidification on marine ecosystems.

Acidification, the result of increasing carbon dioxide levels, may be happening today faster than any time in the past 300 million years – a truly startling finding.

In recognition of concerns about acidifying oceans, the NSF has recently awarded grants totalling over 11 million dollars through its Ocean Acidification programme. Supported by the NSF’s Directorates for Geosciences and Biological Sciences, the awards will fund projects researching the nature, extent and impacts of ocean acidification on marine environments and organisms across the world.

“The Ocean Acidification program at NSF has been wonderfully successful,” enthuses David Garrison, programme director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences. “We’re seeing exciting results from earlier funding, and looking forward to similarly productive research from the current group of awardees.”

The science

Ocean acidification affects species from fish to corals, as well as the hidden microbes that fuel ocean productivity. As the pH of the oceans drops, the ratio of molecules needed for organisms to create their shells and skeletons changes. These changes may affect many other processes, as a plethora of chemical reactions are influenced by the delicate balance of pH.

The effects of ocean acidification are diverse; affecting marine ecosystems, ocean food webs and biogeochemical cycles. Ensuring the oceans continue to support life requires an understanding the chemistry of the acidification process, and how it interacts with the biological processes of the sea.

To reach such an understanding, the NSF-funded projects will ask questions such as:

  • Do regional differences in marine chemistry and physics increase acidification?
  • Are there complex interactions, cascades and bottlenecks that will emerge as the oceans acidify, and what are their ecosystem implications?
  • If current trends continue, how far-reaching will the changes be?

A taste of the research

A wide range of research projects will probe the physiological and metabolic responses of marine organisms to acidification.

Coral reef adaptation and acclimatization to global change: resilience to hotter, more acidic oceans, University of Hawaii

Ocean acidification, temperature and light effects on carbon-use mechanisms, calcification, and growth of tropical macroalgae, Florida Atlantic University

Interactive effects of acidification, low dissolved oxygen and temperature on abalone population dynamics within the California Current, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

These grants are part of NSF’s Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) initiative. To see a full list of the 2014 Ocean Acidifcation awardees, their institutions and projects, click here.