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Plenary Lectures and Presentations

Thursday, 16 February 2011

10:30 to 12:00, Ballroom A – PRCC

Dr. Christopher L. Sabine

NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, WA

Presentation: Ocean Uptake of Atmospheric CO2 and its Impact on Marine Ecosystems

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Currently the average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is approaching 390 parts per million (ppm); a 39% increase over preindustrial levels. Half of that increase has occurred in the last 30 years. By mid-century, the average atmospheric CO2 concentration could easily reach double the preindustrial concentration of 280 ppm. The ocean currently absorbs between one-third and one-fourth of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere from human activities, but the fraction of anthropogenic emissions taken up by the ocean appears to be decreasing with time. As this CO2 dissolves in seawater it forms carbonic acid resulting in what is commonly referred to as ocean acidification. A range of field and laboratory studies suggest that impacts of acidification on some major marine calcifiers may already be detectable and will likely increase in the future. Increasing acidity and related changes in seawater chemistry can also affect reproduction, behaviour, and general physiological functions of some marine organisms such as oysters, sea urchins, squid and some fish. Both the changing ocean CO2 uptake efficiency and potential changes in marine ecosystems suggest that the oceans are undergoing significant changes due to rising CO2. As the world begins to address the issue of global climate change we need to recognize that temperature and sea level rise are not the only concerns, but that the rising CO2 is having a direct impact on the environment and its ecosystem services.

Biographical Information: Christopher L. Sabine received his PhD. in chemical oceanography from the University of Hawaii in 1992. He is currently a supervisory oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, WA. He also holds an affiliate faculty position in the University of Washington School of Oceanography and is a senior fellow at the UW/NOAA Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans (JISAO). Chris’ research focuses on understanding the global carbon cycle and the role of the ocean in absorbing CO2 released from human activity. In particular he studies air-sea exchange of CO2, basin-scale distributions of both natural and anthropogenic carbon, multiple tracer relationships, carbonate and organic matter within the open ocean and in coastal environments and ocean acidification. He is a scientific advisor for national ocean carbon programs within the U.S. and internationally within the United Nations. He has won several awards including the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award for pioneering research leading to the discovery of increased acidification in the world’s oceans and NOAA Research Employee of the Year.