Polar mission starts to study CO2 impacts on ocean

by Search Gate staff. Published Mon 15 Mar 2010 22:09
Explorer Ann Daniels on a previous polar expedition

A team led by British explorer Ann Daniels today began a 500 kilometre trek across the floating sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. Her team of three explorers will be heading northwards collecting data and samples for the Catlin Arctic Survey 2010, an international scientific mission to find out how carbon dioxide is affecting the seawater of the Ocean.

Before leaving the northern Canadian town of Resolute, Ann Daniels commented: “We’re as ready as we’re going to be, but eager to get started. Our work is to capture data which scientists would otherwise not be able to get, it is just so hard to operate in this environment in the winter. The expedition focus is on ocean acidification which some scientists describe as the Earth’s ‘other carbon dioxide problem’.”

Their Twin Otter plane successfully landed on the ice late on Sunday at 85°32’N, 77°45’W following a seven-hour flight from Resolute in northern Canada. The team of three, including Martin Hartley and Charlie Paton, will be hauling sledges weighing up to 120 kilos over pressure ridges, rubble fields and swimming across leads of open water.

The Survey is a unique collaboration between explorers and research scientists to survey and study in the inhospitable conditions of an Arctic winter. Scientists are increasingly focusing on this phenomenon which is associated with rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There is a need for much more information about this from the Arctic Ocean, especially as CO2 is more readily absorbed in cold water, yet research is scarce in this inhospitable region – notably in winter and early spring.

On Monday 15th March a second flight will take a team of scientists to an Ice Base established by the Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 which will become their home for the next 45 days.

Survey Director Pen Hadow said: “Scientists really want to know more about what is going on in this region of the Ocean, but to operate on the Arctic Ocean in winter is extremely hard. Our expedition is not only giving the scientists a way of working there themselves by providing experienced polar guides, but enabling survey data to be obtained far beyond the areas of the ocean where it is safe for them to work by sending our explorers to do that work for them.”

During the survey work the teams will be facing temperatures as low as minus 45 degrees with a wind-chill pushing down to minus 75 celsius.

The academic institutions participating in the Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 include CNRS-Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Laboratoire Oceanographie (Villefranche); Plymouth Marine Laboratory; Institute of Ocean Science (Fisheries and Oceans Canada); University of Exeter; and Bangor University. An international group of scientists based in Europe, Canada and the USA will also be able to use the results of the field studies.

Some scientists believe that, based on current projections, the pH of the world’s oceans could reach levels by 2050 not seen on Earth for 20 million years. If this occurs, there could be serious consequences for marine life in the Arctic and elsewhere.

At a press conference last month Dr Carol Turley of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory said: “We understand from models projecting future ocean chemistry that the Arctic Ocean is particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because cold water absorbs CO2 more effectively than warm oceans, so much so that it may become corrosive to some shelled organisms within a few decades.”

Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso of CNRS-Université Pierre et Marie Curie, whose researchers are heading for the Ice Base, said: “Ocean acidification is the ‘other carbon dioxide problem’. The oceans absorb about a quarter of human-made CO2. This has been limiting the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and mitigating climate change.

“However, the massive amounts of CO2 absorbed considerably upsets the ocean chemistry by increasing the acidity of sea water. It is certain that it will impact marine ecosystems, although we do not fully understand how all marine species will cope at the levels of acidity projected later in this century".

During the expedition the team will be sending video, reports and photos to show what it takes to capture data under the extreme condition of the Arctic Ocean.

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