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Advancing Ocean Acidification Science: IAEA Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre Turns Five


The potential impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms and livelihoods are an emerging concern for many countries, and the focus of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.3. (Photo: Jean-Louis Teyssié/IAEA)

As ocean acidification research evolves and more scientific papers are published each year, there is a mounting need to synthesize and compare data so that countries can properly respond to the issue. The IAEA Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre, or OA-ICC, has been facilitating this process for five years now.

“Ocean acidification is a growing international problem that affects all Member States either directly or indirectly”, said James Orr, Research Director at the Laboratory for Climate and Environment Sciences (LSCE) in France.

The IAEA OA-ICC provides an umbrella for international coordination, building the capacity of states to develop informed responses to this global problem. The Centre’s activities compare and standardize methodologies to measure ocean acidification. Its role is also to develop best practice guidelines and promote data access and sharing within the research community. “These activities are crucial to ensure that data, often generated at great cost, is available to all, in a comparable and consistent format,” Orr said.

Five years ago, the OA-ICC was launched in Monaco under the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative. Since then the project has grown in scale and complexity as IAEA Member States have sought to improve their understanding of how increasing ocean acidification may affect their livelihoods and their ability to report on target 3 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 14, which specifically addresses ocean acidification.

Intensive fossil-fuel burning and deforestation over the last two centuries has increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by 50 % above pre-industrial values. The global ocean currently absorbs roughly one third of this human-caused carbon dioxide, and its carbonate chemistry is fundamentally altered in the process. By doing so, the ocean undergoes a decrease in pH, referred to as ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification has been recognized as a major threat to marine ecosystems. Concern about its impacts on socioeconomically valuable seafood is increasing world-wide, and nuclear and isotopic techniques are used to study the phenomenon. The techniques have widely contributed to the understanding of the field both in terms of investigating past changes in ocean acidity and the impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms.

The IAEA’s OA-ICC maintains a comprehensive bibliographic database, with more than 4500 references, and a scientific database with easy access to more than 900 data sets of impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms. These databases are available for scientists to identify current research gaps and help develop OA-ICC activities to address them.

The Centre supports efforts led by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IOC-UNESCO) to develop a standardized methodology for countries to report on SDG target 14.3, which will contribute to generating comparable data across the globe.

Developing capacity around the world

Ocean acidification research is complex and interdisciplinary. The OA-ICC, in collaboration with international partners, organizes specialized training courses tailored to local research needs. These courses cover both chemical and biological aspects of ocean acidification, and use the latest methodologies — including nuclear and isotopic techniques — and guidelines to promote best practices. During the past five years, the OA-ICC has trained more than 150 researchers from around the world and enabled more than 60 scientists from developing IAEA Member States to present their work and connect with peers at major international conferences.

The OA-ICC actively supports the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON) that aims to increase observations in critical data-sparse areas, such as along the African coasts and within the Indian Ocean, as well as regional ocean acidification networks in Latin America (LAOCA) and Africa .

“The OA-ICC played a key role in developing the LAOCA network and in so doing inspired hundreds of Latin American scientists,” said Cristian Vargas, LAOCA co-chair based at the University of Concepción in Chile. “To advance the understanding of ocean acidification, it is essential to have a centre that coordinates and supports the work of the scientific community around the globe.”

The Centre also collaborates with the Ocean Foundation, GOA-ON, IOC-UNESCO, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ocean Acidification Program (NOAA OAP), and other partners to develop specialized toolkits designed for research institutes with limited technical infrastructure and capacities.

Striving to raise awareness about ocean acidification among stakeholders, including the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques to assess ecosystem impact, the OA-ICC news stream  disseminates daily news on ocean acidification with more than 1000 posts and close to 40 000 visitors from 185 countries per year. Recently, the OA-ICC designed a new IAEA Coordinated Research Project that will allow countries to use a collaborative approach to evaluate the impacts of ocean acidification on key seafood species in several regions of the world.

The OA-ICC has received direct and in-kind contributions from eight IAEA Member States: Australia, France, Italy (the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, ENEA), Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as major international organizations and projects. It is adapting its activities to evolve with this rapidly growing research field and to ensure that resources are used where they are needed most.

“To address the growing concern about ocean acidification, sustained international cooperation and coordination is crucial,” said David Osborn, Director of the IAEA Environment Laboratories.


This topic will be discussed at the IAEA's Scientific Forum: Nuclear Technology for Climate: Mitigation, Monitoring and Adaptation, taking place in Vienna, Austria, from 18 to 19 September 2018.


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