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The first buoy to monitor ocean acidification, a result of carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean, has been launched in the Gulf of Alaska and is a new tool for researchers to examine how ocean circulation and ecosystems interact to determine how much CO2 the North Pacific Ocean absorbs each year.
This buoy is part of a National Science Foundation project awarded to oceanographers at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and the University of Washington in Seattle, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C.
“This a significant step in furthering our understanding of how the ocean is reacting to carbon dioxide, as well as an important addition to the Integrated Ocean Observing System, a part of the growing Global Earth Observation System of Systems, which incorporates the best technology to provide the best science to help decision makers and the general public,” said Richard W. Spinrad, assistant administrator of NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. “This effort also demonstrates the strength of partnerships across agencies and across borders.”
"Ocean acidification presents a very real threat to the health of our oceans and inland waters,” said Washington's Senator Maria Cantwell. “By monitoring CO2 levels in the North Pacific, this buoy will advance our understanding of ocean acidification and give us the information we need to predict future conditions. NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Lab and the University of Washington are at the forefront of important research to understand this troubling trend, and I applaud their efforts."
Attached to the 10-foot diameter buoy are sensors to measure key climate indicators in the lower atmosphere and upper ocean. The buoy is anchored in water nearly 5,000 meters deep and transmits data via satellite.
“The instruments mounted on the buoy will measure the air-sea exchange of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen gas in addition to the pH, a measure of ocean acidity, of the surface waters. This is the first system specifically designed to monitor for ocean acidification,” said Steven Emerson, the project’s principal investigator, from the University of Washington.
“The Gulf of Alaska region is particularly important to observe because it is likely to be one of the first regions to feel the impacts of ocean acidification,” said Christopher Sabine, a PMEL oceanographer. Sabine explained that “the deep water that flows north through the Pacific is forced to shallower depths in Alaska, bringing waters that are naturally corrosive very near the surface. In the Gulf of Alaska specifically, these corrosive waters are shallow enough to mix with the anthropogenic CO2, which exacerbates the ocean acidification effects. Because of this, the region is one of the first likely to feel the impacts of ocean acidification."
The project also offered a technological challenge — create a device that can provide a steady stream of data in extreme conditions. Those challenges are not new to PMEL, which developed the buoys that provide early warnings of ENSO events (El Niño and La Niña), and those that are part of the tsunami warning system.
“The challenge is to design a cost-effective mooring and instrumentation system that meets the science goals and can survive the high winds and waves that occur during winter storms in the Gulf of Alaska,” says PMEL lead engineer Christian Meinig, who designed and fabricated the buoy.
The mooring deployment occurred aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship John P. Tully in collaboration with the Line P program — a series of oceanographic stations extending from the mouth of the Juan de Fuca Strait, south of Vancouver Island, to Ocean Station Papa in the Pacific Ocean — funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“We welcome this valuable addition to the Line P program,” said Marie Robert, program coordinator at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C. “We have continuous measurements along Line P for more than 50 years, making it one of the world’s most valuable ocean time series. This new mooring will enhance the entire program.”
“While this is a research effort, the data are made available to the public in real time,” said Meghan Cronin, a PMEL oceanographer. “The information collected by buoys such as this one provides an opportunity to study the ocean over a wide range of environmental conditions and time scales from hours to months that could not be accomplished from a ship.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America’s scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.
On the Web:
Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov