Science and Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the UK Ocean Acidification (UKOA) research programme

1. Introduction

1.1 The Science and Technology Committee identified ocean acidification as an issue of specific interest to its inquiry on marine science, in the context of global warming (Q6 of the inquiry announcement). The main direct cause of ocean acidification—rising carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere—is the same as for global warming, but the two processes are distinct; ocean acidification has therefore been called “the other CO2 problem”.

1.2 This submission considers the recent development of UK research on ocean acidification in terms of its strategic oversight and coordination (in response to Q1); the delivery of the Marine Science Strategy (Q2); the balance between polar and non-polar research (Q5); and the monitoring and assessment of global change impacts (Q6). Summary information on relevant training, communications and science-to-policy outreach is also included on the basis that such aspects may be of interest to the Committee.

1.3 The authors of this submission recognise that ocean acidification is very likely to be mentioned in the evidence provided by Research Councils and government departments, and maybe others. The justification for a separate, single-focus submission is that ocean acidification can be considered as a case study of an emerging marine environmental topic of high societal importance, and how that is being addressed (successfully, from a scientific perspective) by the research community, UK funding agencies and international bodies.

2. The development of UK ocean acidification research

2.1 Within the past decade it has become evident that human-driven changes in atmospheric composition are also causing global changes in seawater chemistry, with potentially damaging impacts on marine ecosystems and the services they provide for human well-being. The Royal Society’s 2005 review of ocean acidification1 played a major role in bringing scientific (and policy) attention to this issue. In that year, there were only around five other research publications specifically on ocean acidification; since then, the annual total has increased more than 40-fold, to ~280 in 2011 (Table 1). Over that seven year period, around 14% of ocean acidification research papers have had UK lead authors, second only to the USA.

2.2 In 2007, the early development of UK research on ocean acidification was greatly assisted by the outcomes from the Defra/DTI-funded project “Implications for the Marine Environment of CO2” (IMCO2)2 led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory. There were also several relevant activities and work packages in the newly-started, NERC-funded Oceans 2025 programme, with an associated Strategic Ocean Funding Initiative (SOFI) research grant awarded to Essex University and the Marine Biological Association.

Table 1. Worldwide research publications in ocean acidification*: annual totals 2005–11 and number of UK papers, based on lead author’s affiliation. The “top ten” for national research output on that basis over that period was: (1) USA, 229 papers; (2) UK, 104; (3) Australia, 80; (4) Germany, 60; (5) Japan, 32; (6=) Canada and France, 31; (8) China PR, 20; (9) Sweden,18; (10) New Zealand,15. Twenty-seven other countries also contributed to the scientific literature on ocean acidification over that seven-year period. Note that this publication summary contains few publications directly arising from the UK Ocean Acidification research programme, for which the main research outputs are expected in 2012–15.









Total no. of papers









UK papers

















* Data from ISI Web of Knowledge v5.3 using “ocean acidification” as the search term and checking abstracts for relevance. Use of additional search terms (e.g. pH and CO2) is likely to have increased the number of papers, particularly in 2005–07, but would have required more subjectivity in assessing relevance. A similarly rapid recent increase in ocean acidification publications is reported in Gattuso J-P & Hansson L (2011) Ocean Acidification, Oxford University Press.

2.3 Planning for a more comprehensive, national research effort—the UK Ocean Acidification research programme, UKOA—began in 2007–08, with the development of a NERC Theme Action Plan. This Action was approved by NERC Council in 2009 and subsequently accredited by the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership. Co-funding by NERC, Defra and DECC was agreed at the combined level of £12.4 million over five years.

2.4 Based on the UKOA Science Plan and Implementation Plan, multi-institute consortium proposals were solicited. Awards were made in 2010, following international peer review. UKOA currently supports seven research consortia, an analytical laboratory and 12 research studentships, involving a total of ~120 researchers and collaborators at 26 universities, NERC research centres and other institutions (including Cefas, Marine Scotland and the Meteorological Office/Hadley Centre). It is directed by a Programme Executive Board, representing funders, and guided by a Programme Advisory Board, involving national and international experts.

2.5 UKOA research is focussed on the following science areas: observations and trends in oceanic pH; impacts on upper ocean biogeochemistry; impacts on benthic (seafloor) ecosystems; impacts on commercially-important species and socio-economic implications; previous ocean acidification events, on geological timescales; and regional and global modelling of ecosystem responses and climate feedbacks. UKOA also supports a carbonate chemistry analysis laboratory for research groups in the programme.3

3. Match to UK Marine Science Strategy

3.1 The UKOA programme directly addresses a specific issue identified in the MSCC’s 2010 UK Marine Science Strategy “Effects of acidification on marine organisms”, within the broader science priority of “Responding to climate change and its interaction with the marine environment”.

3.2 Other issues, science priorities and strategic goals of the UK Marine Science Strategy are also covered by the programme. Examples of UKOA’s match to more generic objectives include maximising the benefits of international collaboration; developing cost-effective sustained observing systems; pro-active communication to a wide range of stakeholders; training the next generation of marine scientists; and using sound science responsibly to promote good governance. Several of these aspects are considered in greater detail below.

4. International context

4.1 During the past five years, many other countries have also greatly increased their support for ocean acidification research. Complementarity of effort has been maximised, and duplication minimised, through three main mechanisms:

EU funding and coordination through the European Project on Ocean Acidification, EPOCA ( €16m, 2008–12)4 and the Mediterranean Sea Acidification in a Changing Climate project, MedSeA (€6 million, 2011–14).5 Both projects have multiple UK science partners. In EPOCA, the UK had a lead role for education, outreach and knowledge exchange; science-to-policy highlights included the EU Ocean Acidification day (Brussels, 9 May 2011) and two recent presentations by UK researchers in the European Parliament. EU/EC funding does, however, depend on matching support from national sources.

Enhanced international coordination and collaboration on a worldwide basis, primarily achieved to date by a joint working group of the Surface Ocean-Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) and the Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research project (IMBER), with knowledge exchange assistance by the (UK-led) international Reference User Group on Ocean Acidification. The recently established International Coordination Centre for Ocean Acidification Research, based in Monaco, will take forward that global facilitating role, in close liaison with the Future Earth initiative of ICSU and the Belmont Forum.

Bilateral linkages between national programmes, both at the strategic level and via direct contacts between researchers. The UKOA Implementation Plan included formal links with the German BIOACID programme, through meetings, collaborative fieldwork and cross-membership of Advisory Boards. The delivery of such connections has been assisted by a UKOA supplementary funding scheme, providing (modest) additional support for international studies that add significant value to the national effort. Links with US ocean acidification researchers have also been promoted by the FCO-BIS Science & Innovation Network, that funded ten US-UK working exchanges through Collaborative Development Awards and a joint US-UK workshop.

5. Geographical scope

5.1 The geographic coverage of the UKOA programme has three main groupings:

UK coastal seas and the North-West European shelf. These areas provide the main focus for laboratory and field studies on the effects of pH change on marine organisms (microbes, invertebrates and fish), to be scaled-up by regional modelling. The programme’s first two research cruises (RRS Discovery 366;6 RRS James Cook 73;)7 were mostly in UK waters, in June 2011 and June-July 2012, and can be considered the world’s first research cruises specifically directed at measuring ocean acidification and its ecosystem implications.

Polar regions are also of considerable interest, since ocean acidification impacts on calcifying organisms (through calcium carbonate undersaturation) seem likely to be greatest there. In July 2012, the Greenland and Norwegian seas were investigated by the 3rd UKOA research cruise (RRS James Clark Ross 271),8 and the programme’s final cruise will be in the Southern Ocean, in January-February 2013.

The global scale is also important for modelling activities within UKOA, since regional models need to be closely coupled to global climate change and biogeochemical feedback processes, particularly when assessing future ocean acidification and its projected impacts. The palaeo- components of the programme also have a global scope, using the geological record from coastal East Africa, North America and elsewhere to re-construct past events involving major, global-scale changes in atmospheric CO2 and ocean pH.

6. Long-term observations and monitoring

6.1 A five-year research programme, such as UKOA, has a limited role for longterm observations and monitoring. Nevertheless, UKOA’s “Observations and synthesis” component is helping to support longterm Atlantic-wide measurements of CO2 fluxes and carbonate chemistry parameters, and has assisted the initiation of new, large-scale ocean acidification observations in UK shelf seas, in partnership with Cefas and Marine Scotland. Thus underway pCO2 systems are now operational on RV Cefas Endeavour and RV Scotia, together with time series stations based on SmartBuoys and additional discrete sampling for carbonate chemistry parameters.

6.2 A framework for international coordination of ocean acidification observations is currently being developed, led by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project (IOCCP) and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). The UK is fully involved in that process, and is planning to host the 2nd workshop to develop that initiative (St Andrews, July 2013). High quality data management is a core requirement for longterm observing systems, and the UK has particular strengths in that area, through the British Oceanographic Data Centre, BODC.

7. Research training

7.1 The UKOA programme includes support for 12 PhD research studentships, closely linked to the consortium-based science groups. These students present their results for discussion at UKOA Annual Science Meetings, attended by other researchers and stakeholders with relevant interests. The programme’s 2012 ASM also included participation by 10 other research students, not directly UKOA-supported. Travel awards are available to UKOA students and early-career researchers to enable them to present their results at major international meetings; e.g. the 3rd “Ocean in a High CO2 World” symposium (Monterey, 24–27 September 2012).

8. Communications and science-to-policy outreach

8.1 Working closely with European and international partners, the UK has played a seminal role in bringing the issue of ocean acidification, and its policy implications, to a wider audience. Specific activities and outputs in recent years, mostly led by the UKOA Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (Dr Carol Turley), have included:

“The Other CO2 Problem” (2009) a short animated film produced by secondary school students and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

“Ocean acidification: Connecting science, industry, policy and public” (2011), a widely shown and downloaded short film that covers the perspectives of both scientists and stakeholders.

Involvement in (and UKOA support for) the International Ocean Acidification Reference User Group, with OA-RUG publications including “Ocean Acidification: the Facts”, “Ocean Acidification: Questions Answered” and “Ocean Acidification: Acting on Evidence”

“Hot, Sour and Breathless—Ocean under Stress”9 a policy guide on multiple climate-driven ocean stressors led by UKOA and supported by international and intergovernmental organisations.

Involvement in Planet under Pressure (London, April 2012) with a UKOA-led and DECC-chaired discussion session, also an “Ocean under Stress” exhibit and poster presentations.

Engagement in UNFCCC Conference of Parties (in 2009, 2010 and 2011) through exhibitions, presentations and side-events, with associated media coverage.

Engagement in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) through exhibitions, presentations and side-events, with associated media coverage.

Major contributions to the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (currently in preparation) by UKOA scientists, as Lead Author, Review Editor, Contributing Authors and chapter draft reviewers.

9. Conclusions

9.1 The UK has responded strongly to the strategic research challenge presented by ocean acidification, with actions that are well-coordinated at the national and international level. The interests of NERC, Defra and DECC are fully complementary in this area, and an excellent working partnership has been developed through the UKOA programme. Whilst it may be considered premature to assess the quality of the scientific outputs, there can be little doubt that the new knowledge obtained will have major policy significance.

9.2 The challenge will be to maintain the necessary level of scientific attention to ocean acidification and its impacts when project awards within the UKOA research programme come to an end, mostly in 2014.

Declaration of Interests

1. Dr Phillip Williamson is a NERC employee working in the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia with the role of Science Coordinator for the UK Ocean Acidification (UKOA) research programme (40% effort, 2010–15)

2. Professor Harry Elderfield is a member of the academic staff of the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge. He is Chair of the UKOA Programme Advisory Group and a member of the UKOA Programme Executive Board. He does not receive any research support from the programme.

September 2012

1 Royal Society. 2005. Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Policy document 12/05; The Royal Society, London.

2 The IMCO2 project (2003–07) also addressed CO2 leakage issues relating to CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage). IMCO2, together with a NERC responsive-mode research grant, funded the construction of the PML ocean acidification experimental system that has underpinned much subsequent research.








Prepared 9th April 2013