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Arctic expedition studies impact of climate change on ice-free waters

Carey RestinoThe Arctic Sounder
Dr. Steven Ferguson photo

While the spotlight shone this past week on scientists announcing the lowest ice pack ever recorded in the Arctic, another group of researchers embarked on an expedition to study another aspect of the region's changing environment — ocean acidification.

For the third year in a row, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey will spend coming weeks collecting water and ice samples from Arctic waters -- this year on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

According to the USGS, the Arctic's cold waters absorb more CO2 than warmer waters, leading to water conditions that are harmful to organisms that need to be able to build shells or skeletons.

"Ocean acidification is a particularly vexing problem associated with the release of CO2 into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels because it interferes with the ability of marine organisms to build hard shells of calcium carbonate," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt, according to a release. "Comparatively more research has been devoted to the tropics, where coral reefs are threatened. This important expedition focuses on polar latitudes, where the acidification effects can cascade from microscopic organisms up to our economy, as the organisms at risk from the base of the food chain for some of the world's most productive fisheries."

According to the USGS, the world's oceans absorb one-fourth of the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. The increase in acidification is especially harmful to organisms such as corals, oysters, crabs, shrimp and plankton.

"This cruise offers us an opportunity to collect more information over a vast spatial extent of the Arctic Ocean," said USGS oceanographer and project chief Lisa Robbins. "These data will provide a better understanding of the current patterns of acidification and thus they will significantly contribute to society's efforts to understand, forecast, and potentially mitigate impacts to the Arctic ecosystem and its many globally important resources."

Read an online journal of the USGS expedition here.

This article was originally published by The Arctic Sounder and is reprinted here with permission. Carey Restino can be reached at crestino(at)reportalaska.com.