Ocean acidification investigations in the Kiel Fjord

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Greenhouse gases, and in particular carbon dioxide (CO2), are one of the most discussed topics in society today, influencing political debate, legal framework and business decision-making. From a pre-industrial 280ppm, atmospheric CO2 has risen to a present-day level of 390ppm, with this figure expected to rise to up to 1000ppm by the year 2100. An increase in atmospheric CO2 is related to issues such as global warming, rising sea levels and precipitation change and is therefore thought to be one of the main reasons for climate change. Climate change has become more apparent in the media recently following an increasing abundance of extreme weather events which have claimed the lives of many people and caused severe damage to property and homes. Although human-influenced climate change is a scientifically accepted phenomenon, the global debate about the practical steps individuals and governments must take to confront the problem is still unresolved. Another major and important change caused by the increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration is a phenomenon called ocean acidification (OA). Its potentially threatening effects on marine life are still not entirely understood today and are the subject of various research endeavours around the globe. About 30-40% of anthropogenic CO2 dissolves into rivers, lakes and oceans. As water absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, the strongly dissociating carbonic acid is formed, which leads to a decrease in the water’s pH; hence the process is referred to as “acidification”. If CO2 emissions continue to increase at the same or an even higher rate as today, the oceans will take up huge quantities of CO2 and OA will be accelerated. The speed at which the amount of dissolved CO2 increases and pH drops may make it difficult for organisms, especially forcalcifying organisms, to cope.

Whereas CO2 partial pressure1 (pCO2) fluctuations in offshore ocean regions are relatively small, coastal habitats are characterised by much higher variability. These habitats provide insights into the tolerances and thresholds of marine life to the conditions in a future acidified ocean. The Kiel Fjord, Germany, located in the western Baltic Sea, is such a habitat with such a strong pCO2 amplitude and therefore well-suited for OA related studies2. The Baltic is a brackish water, semi-enclosed sea which is characterised by a salinity gradient from the west to the east. The Kiel Fjord lies in the transition zone between the low saline water masses from the central Baltic and the high saline North Sea water. In order to understand the variability inhabiting installation at a constant water depth of approximately 0.5 metres.

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