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Protecting Our Oceans

27 April 2017
How can nuclear science and technology help protect our marine ecosystems for future generations? Through TC Project KUW7003 – Addressing Ocean Acidification and Carbon Export in Marine Waters, scientists at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) are making tangible progress in using nuclear techniques to analyse the biogeochemical cycle in the Persian Gulf. Their aim is to better understand the impacts of rising temperatures and ocean acidity on the biological life in the region.Ocean acidification describes the process of oceans becoming less alkaline. This is happening due to ocean sequestration: a natural process of carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake from the atmosphere into the ocean, which has been happening for millions of years. However, with the increasing amount of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere, oceans are taking up more CO2 and their chemical structure is changing, which is likely to negatively impact biological life underwater.
TC project KUW7003 aims at better understanding the effects of ocean acidification in the Persian Gulf.As many livelihoods in the region depend on the ocean, with the Gulf providing many fishing grounds and a diverse ecology hosting extensive coral reefs and pearl oysters, damage to the fragile ecosystem would have a serious impact on marine life.With changing climatic conditions, both increase in temperature and lowering of pH, the corals of Gulf are under stress, causing coral bleaching. This image shows calcified, dead corals. 

However, several experiments have shown that corals found in the Gulf region are very resilient to climate change; studies are being conducted to identify whether this is due to a genetic adaption or acclimatization.  
The problem of acidification in the Gulf is more complex than in other open seas. The TC project KUW7003 aims at providing insight into the effects of climate change on the Gulf’s ecosystem.  In this picture, a researcher at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research is checking pH and temperature settings in the experimental tanks at the KISR.Nuclear techniques are well established for understanding the rate of calcification in oceans. In order to understand the surface water characteristics and their impact on the rate of calcification of corals, surface water samples have to be collected, as shown here. This picture shows the experimental tanks for the ocean acidification  – ocean warming exposure experiments. This is a unique set-up to simulate past and future oceanic conditions. Different scenarios are simulated by lowering pH by bubbling of CO2, and regulating temperature using thermostats. In connection with the research work undertaken with the support of IAEA, a new technology has been developed by KISR scientists – a seawater surface sampling device that has recently been awarded an United States patent (9541474 B1). This device is capable of collecting neustonic samples. The neustonic layer is a super sensitive top layer of the ocean, where most atmospheric-oceanic interaction takes place.On site monitoring is an integral part of any marine monitoring network. Kuwait maintains several monitoring stations for long the term measurement of marine water quality in different locations in the Gulf.  
Large volumes of seawater samples are collected from different depths to understand the response of the Gulf to climate change. 
With the support of this technical cooperation project, KISR will be able to identify the multiple causes for ocean acidification and explore changes in the complex ecosystem of the Persian Gulf. KISR will play a decisive role in helping to preserve the rich variety of biological life underwater in the region. 
Special Thanks to: Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research

Photos: Louise Potterton, IAEA Office for Public Information and Communication

Captions & Arrangement: Julia Krickl, IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation

©2017 IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation