Ocean Conservancy spoke with Claudine Hauri about her publication this week in Nature Climate Change on the future impacts of ocean acidification on the Southern Ocean, the body of water surrounding Antarctica and the southern tip of South America. Claudine is a postdoctoral fellow at the International Pacific Research Center of the University of Hawaii and Research Assistant Professor at the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and focuses on how physical, chemical and biological systems influence variability of ocean acidification and carbon cycling in the ocean.
Q: What does your study show about ocean health?
A: We found that over the next several decades, ocean acidification will quickly change the chemistry of the Southern Ocean so that pteropods, small snails that are important to the marine food web, may struggle to form their shells. Our results suggest that the duration of conditions that are harmful to pteropods may increase abruptly from one month to more than six months in less than 20 years upon their onset. Given that we expect these conditions to get worse, it’s uncertain whether pteropods can adapt.
Q: How does this research fit into your previous work?
A: My previous work analyzes how ocean acidification may change the intensity, duration and frequency of such harmful conditions along the U.S. West Coast. There, the seawater is naturally enriched with CO2 due to seasonal upwelling of deep, CO2-rich water. Ocean acidification over the last few decades has pushed the seawater closer to becoming harmful for pteropods. As a result, they have to expend more energy to fight dissolution and are exposed to increased risk of mortality and infection. If acidification causes pteropods to die off, a crucial food source for many organisms such as salmon and whales will be gone.
Q: How did you come to focus on ocean acidification in the Southern Ocean for your most recent publication?
A: The Southern Ocean and the U.S. West Coast have a lot in common. Just like the waters along the West Coast, the Southern Ocean is naturally closer to the threshold critical for pteropod survival, and these tiny sea snails also play an important role in the food web. So I decided to look at the Southern Ocean a little closer and get a better understanding of how long and where these ecologically important tiny sea snails may be exposed to harmful conditions over the next century.
Q: What would you most like people to know about your research?
A: Ocean acidification is on the brink of threatening many of our marine ecosystems. The only way to mitigate this risk is to make immediate and significant reductions in our carbon dioxide emissions.