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The US Announces Continued Support to the IAEA Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC) at 2016 Our Oceans Conference


Coral reefs are threatened by ocean warming and acidification. (Photo: J.L. Teyssié/IAEA)

The US Government announced last week at the Our Ocean Conference in Washington DC a further US $600,000 in support of the "Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre", an IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative project.

Launched in 2012 at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC) is the IAEA's response to a call by leading scientists for an international effort to coordinate, promote and facilitate global ocean acidification studies and activities. Ocean acidification has emerged as one of the major global threats to marine organisms, ecosystems, and resources in the 21st century. The ocean absorbs roughly 25% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted each year as a result of human activities. As a result of this increasing CO2, ocean acidity has increased by 30% since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and changes are occurring 100 times faster than at any moment in the last 55 million years. 

"Ocean acidification is a global problem, but the impacts on specific species, ecosystems and industries will differ from location to location. We really need well-structured and collaborative science to both understand and respond to this emerging challenge," said David Osborn, Director of the IAEA Environment Laboratories. He added "the leadership and support for the OA-ICC provided by countries such as the USA, is key to facilitating this scientific cooperation."

This "other CO2 problem", still relatively unknown by the general public, could potentially have dramatic socio-economic consequences for countries dependent on marine resources, especially in coastal communities with fewer possibilities for alternative livelihoods. The United Nations recently adopted the Sustainable Development Goals where target 14.3 will look to "Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels." As worldwide research activities on ocean acidification and related stressors continue to develop, there is a clear need for continued international cooperation and coordination in order to achieve this target.

Over the past three years the OA-ICC has established a set of successful activities that have benefitted many IAEA Member States. These include strengthening scientific capability particularly in developing Member States, helping to establish a Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON), supporting international ocean acidification data management, promoting the use of best practices, and communicating the science to non-scientists.

The second phase of the project, which will benefit from the US support announced last week, will continue to promote similar international activities to accelerate advances in ocean acidification research, capacity building and communication, including examining the impact of multiple stressors, such as ocean warming and decreases in oxygen levels. As a sign of the importance of such research and knowledge-sharing, Dr Kathryn Sullivan, Administrator for NOAA, announced at the Our Ocean conference the launch of a new ocean acidification data portal.  "This key data will allow scientists, resource managers, industry, and policy makers alike to retrieve near real-time ocean acidification data and data visualisations to understand how this phenomenon advances and be able to take action," said Libby Jewett, director of NOAA's Ocean Acidification Program, and co-chair of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network.

Ocean Acidification work at the IAEA Environment Laboratories

The IAEA, through its Environment Laboratories, has carried out ocean acidification studies since 2008 and pioneered research on key indicators of ocean acidification, for which nuclear and isotopic techniques provide a unique tool. The laboratories have established close cooperation on the subject with leading local French and Monegasque research institutes such as the Scientific Centre of Monaco and the Oceanography Laboratory of Villefranche-sur-mer. The IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco are also involved in several technical cooperation projects with more than 40 Member States from all regions which include ocean acidification components, and which are closely connected to and complementary to the work of the OA-ICC.

Ocean acidification is a global problem, but the impacts on specific species, ecosystems and industries will differ from location to location. We really need well-structured and collaborative science to both understand and respond to this emerging challenge.
David Osborn, Director of the IAEA Environment Laboratories

Organisms with shells and skeletons may be more sensitive to ocean acidification. (Photo: J.L. Teyssié/IAEA)

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