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First ocean acidification buoy placed in Alaska waters

May 11th, 2011 | Alaska Newspapers Staff Print this article   Email this article  

Researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks are installing ocean acidification buoys in Alaska waters to help scientists learn how climate change may be affecting the pH level of northern seas.

The first buoy was placed in April at the mouth of Resurrection Bay, near Seward, after being assembled at UAF's Seward Marine Center, university officials said May 11.

Jeremy Mathis, an assistant professor of chemical oceanography at UAF, and principal investigator for the project, said this is the first dedicated ocean acidification mooring to be deployed in a high-latitude coastal sea.

Ocean acidification is the term used to describe increasing acidity in the world's oceans. As carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere, the ocean absorbs it like a sponge, making seawater more acidic. Scientists estimate that the ocean is 25 percent more acidic today than it was 300 years ago.

While other moorings have been deployed with ocean acidification sensors, this is the first complete package in Alaska, he said.

Chris Sabine, a senior scientist and co-principal investigator at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, assisted in assembling the first buoy.

A second buoy will be deployed in the Bering Sea this month, and a third will be placed in the Chukchi Sea in October. The data collected by the buoys will be sent to scientists in real time via satellite.

The top of each buoy floats at the ocean's surface and the bottom is anchored to the seafloor. Each buoy contains two sets of instruments. The first set, at the water's surface, measures the water's acidity or alkalinity, or pH, as well as water temperature, carbon dioxide levels and other data. The second set of instruments, near the bottom, collects data on pH, carbon dioxide, temperature, salinity and other information.

Coastal seas around Alaska are more susceptible to ocean acidification because of unique circulation patterns and colder temperatures, Mathis said. These factors increase the transport of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into surface waters.

The buoy will also help scientists determine how seawater pH changes throughout the seasons.

They will provide new insights and understanding for ocean acidification in the Pacific-Arctic region," said Mathis. "We know that these areas are going to experience a dramatic change in pH over the coming decades and, given the importance of the fisheries, we have to stay out in front of any potential disruptions that could be caused by rising carbon dioxide levels."


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