Greenpeace heads to Arctic to investigate urgent ocean threats

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Press release – May 12, 2010
KIEL, Germany, Greenpeace today announced its ‘Arctic Under Pressure Expedition’ in which it will join with leading scientists to investigate the most urgent threats to the Arctic Ocean: ocean acidification, melting of the sea ice due to climate change and the fishing industry’s northward race (1).

In the first ocean acidification experiment of its kind (2), Greenpeace is supporting the German marine research institute IFM-GEOMAR (Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences), in exploring the effects of rising CO2 levels on marine life. The impacts of CO2-induced acidification are expected to hit first and hardest in the Arctic. It is changing the oceans’ chemistry, and could cause a breakdown of ocean ecosystems as we know them. The survival of plankton, corals and other critical sea life are threatened.

“Ocean acidification is pollution of the sea on a global scale and one more result of the world’s addiction to fossil fuels. Governments must make urgent and deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions now before it’s too late,” said Dr David Santillo of Greenpeace’s Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter.

Ocean acidification is caused by rising CO2 levels in the oceans as a result of burning of fossil fuels and forest destruction. Oceans absorb around 8 billion tonnes of the CO2 produced by people each year through use of fossil fuels alone (3) – equal, in terms of volume, to filling over a billion Olympic-sized swimming pools. The changes are happening faster in cold water than in warm.

“Our study addresses the base of the Arctic food web. We expect important new results on the sensitivity of Arctic life to ocean acidification,” said Professor Ulf Riebesell, leader of the multinational project on ocean acidification.

Greenpeace is taking some of the institute’s scientists, along with over 30 tonnes of scientific equipment, including nine large off-shore testing structures – mesocosms — on board the ‘Esperanza’ to Ny-Ålesund, on the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic. Greenpeace will assist the scientists in deploying the equipment in the Kongsfjord, where it will be used to simulate future conditions of ocean acidification within the mesocosms and monitor potential effects (4). Scientists from nine countries will be taking part in what is the most comprehensive experiment on ocean acidification to date.

Throughout the northern hemisphere summer, the Greenpeace ‘Arctic Under Pressure Expedition’ will also expose and document other key threats to the Arctic Ocean that are endangering its wildlife and environment. These include the melting of the Arctic sea ice due to climate change and the fishing industry’s northward race to exploit areas of ocean previously protected by ice.

Professor Peter Wadhams, head of Cambridge University’s Polar Ocean Physics Group, will join the ‘Esperanza’ in August to conduct a range of tests to establish the thickness of the ice and its rate of melt, following on from his 2009 Arctic work with Greenpeace.

See http://www.greenpeace.org/Arctic2010 for Leo Murray’s new animated film for Greenpeace on ocean acidification and for more throughout the Expedition. Goes live at 15.00 CET.

Notes to editors:

(1) Greenpeace’s ‘Arctic Under Pressure Expedition’ is in the Arctic from 24 May to mid-September. The ocean acidification experiments will take place from 27 May to 12 July; exposing fishing fleets’ northward race from 8 June to 6 July and examining the rate of sea ice melt from 18 August to mid-September.

(2) IFM-GEOMAR’s equipment features nine large structures called mesocosms, which are being transported by the Esperanza to the Kongsfjord, Ny-Ålesund, creating nine isolated columns of seawater as the basis for the experiments. Each weighs two tons, is the height of two double-decker buses, and will enclose 50 cubic metres of water.

(3) IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Chapter 7, Table 7.1 (page 516) and Section 7.3.2 (pages 515-526); http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/contents.html:

(4) CO2 will be bubbled into the mesocosms to give a range of concentrations from present values (~390 ppm) to those expected by the middle of the next century (~1250 ppm), producing different levels of acidification. Over five weeks, scientists will take daily samples to monitor changes in the chemistry and biology of the seawater trapped within each mesocosm, testing what happens under increasing CO2 and acidification. See: http://epocaarctic2010.wordpress.com/the-experiments/the-mesocosms/ The scientists will be based at the international research station King’s Bay, on Svalbard’s west coast. In summer the station comprises scientists from many institutions and countries specialising in environmental and earth science research.

Contacts:

On shore:

Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International communications, tel: +44 (0) 7717 802 891
Dr. Andreas Villwock, IFM-GEOMAR press office, tel: +49 431 600 2802

On board the ‘Esperanza’:

Dave Walsh, Greenpeace International Communications, tel: +47 5140 7986/7/8; and from 20 May call: Iridium numbers: +88 16 777 01411/2/3

Throughout the expedition photo and video will be available from:

John Novis, Greenpeace International photo desk, +44 7801 615 889
Maarten Van Rouveroy, Greenpeace International video desk, +31 646 197 322

Original article here

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