26 Sep 2022
26 Sep 2022

Unifying biological field observations to detect and compare ocean acidification impacts across marine species and ecosystems: What to monitor and why

Steve Widdicombe1, Kirsten Isensee2, Yuri Artioli1, Juan Diego Gaitán-Espitia3, Claudine Hauri4, Janet A. Newton5, Mark Wells6,7, and Sam Dupont8,9 Steve Widdicombe et al.
  • 1Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), Plymouth, PL1 3DH, United Kingdom
  • 2Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, 75732, France
  • 3The Swire Institute of Marine Science, School of Biological Sciences, The Hong Kong University, Hong Kong, China
  • 4International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775-0100, USA
  • 5Applied Physics Laboratory and College of the Environment, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98105-6698, USA
  • 6School of Marine Sciences, The University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5706, USA
  • 7State Key Laboratory of Satellite Ocean Environment Dynamics, Second Institute of Oceanography, Ministry of Natural Resources, Hangzhou, China
  • 8Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Fiskebäckskil, 45178, Sweden
  • 9Radioecology Laboratory International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Marine Laboratories, 98000, Principality of Monaco

Abstract. Approximately one quarter of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere annually from human activities is absorbed by the ocean, resulting in a reduction of seawater pH and shifts in seawater carbonate chemistry. This multi-decadal process, termed “anthropogenic ocean acidification” (OA) has been shown to have detrimental impacts on marine ecosystems. Recent years have seen a globally coordinated effort to measure the changes in seawater chemistry caused by OA, with best practices now available for these measurements. In contrast to these substantial advances in observing physico-chemical changes due to OA, quantifying their biological consequences remains challenging, especially from in-situ observations under real-world conditions. Results from two decades of controlled laboratory experiments on OA have given insight into the likely processes and mechanisms by which elevated CO2 levels affect biological process, but the manifestation of these process across a plethora of natural situations has yet to be explored fully. This challenge requires us to identify a set of fundamental biological and ecological indicators that are i) relevant across all marine ecosystems, ii) have a strongly demonstrated link to OA, and iii) have implications for ocean health and the provision of ecosystem services with impacts on local marine management strategies and economies. This paper draws on the understanding of biological impacts provided by the wealth of previous experiments, as well as the findings of recent meta-analyses, to propose five broad classes of biological indicators that, when coupled with environmental observations, including carbonate chemistry, would allow the rate and severity of biological change in response to OA to be observed and compared. These broad indicators are applicable to different ecological systems, and the methods for data analysis suggested here would allow researchers to combine biological response data across regional and global scales by correlating rates of biological change with the rate of change in carbonate chemistry parameters. Moreover, a method using laboratory observation to design an optimal observing strategy (frequency and duration) and observe meaningful biological rates of change highlights the factors that need to be considered when applying our proposed observation strategy. This innovative observing methodology allows inclusion of a wide diversity of marine ecosystems in regional and global assessments and has the potential to increase the contribution of OA observations from countries with developing OA science capacity.

Steve Widdicombe et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-907', Anonymous Referee #1, 10 Oct 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-907', Anonymous Referee #2, 24 Oct 2022

Steve Widdicombe et al.

Steve Widdicombe et al.


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Short summary
Ocean acidification is a global perturbation of the ocean carbonate chemistry as a consequence of increased carbon dioxide concentration into the atmosphere. While great progress has been made over the last decade for chemical monitoring, ocean acidification biological monitoring remains anecdotal. This is a consequence of a lack of standards, general methodological framework and overall methodology. This paper presents methodology focusing on sensitive traits and a focus on rate of changes.