National Science Foundation awards multiple grants to integrate various disciplines, including paleoecology, physics and marine chemistry
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — In addition to the most obvious effects of global warming — beetle kill, melting glaciers, more forest fires — oceans are feeling the effect of the changing climate in a much more subtle way. As atmospheric carbon dioxide increases, it’s making its way into marine ecosystems, and the water is growing increasingly acidic.
Animal species from pteropods–delicate, butterfly-like planktonic drifters–to hard corals are affected by ocean acidification; so, too, are unseen microbes that fuel ocean productivity and influence the chemical functioning of ocean waters.
As oceans become more acidic, the balance of molecules needed for shell-bearing organisms to manufacture shells and skeletons is altered. The physiology of many marine species, from microbes to fish, may be affected. A myriad of chemical reactions and cycles are influenced by the pH of the oceans.
“Ocean acidification likely affects marine ecosystems, life histories, food webs and biogeochemical cycling,” says Karl Erb, director of NSF’s Office of Polar Programs. “We need to understand the chemistry of ocean acidification and its interplay with marine biochemical and physiological processes–before Earth’s seas become inhospitable to life as we know it.”
To address the growing concern for acidifying marine systems, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded 21 grants under the Ocean Acidification theme of its Climate Research Investment. The awards are supported and managed by NSF’s Office of Polar Programs, Directorate for Geosciences, and Directorate for Biological Sciences.
Projects will foster research on the nature, extent and effects of ocean acidification on marine environments and organisms in the past, present and future–from tropical systems to icy seas.
Has ocean life faced similar challenges in our planet’s past?
“Earth system history informs our understanding of the effects of ocean acidification on the present-day and future ocean,” says Tim Killeen, NSF assistant director for Geosciences.
“For a true comprehension of how acidification will change the oceans,” says Killeen, “we must integrate paleoecology with marine chemistry, physics, and ecology, and an understanding of the past environmental conditions on Earth.”
NSF’s ocean acidification awards involve researchers from all these disciplines.
The investigators will use diverse approaches such as observational systems, experimental studies, theory and modeling, says Erb, to make important new discoveries about how we’re changing the world’s oceans.