Ocean acidification

The term ocean acidification is used to describe the ongoing decrease in ocean pH caused by human CO2 emissions, such as the burning of fossil fuels. This is having an adverse effect on many important marine species such as corals, oysters, crabs and plankton, and due to the unprecedented rate of acidification they may not have time to evolve mechanisms to cope with the changing chemistry of the ocean.

PML scientists have been at the forefront of developing the science of ocean acidification and pivotal in placing the issues surrounding the science firmly onto the international agenda.

We are working to advance understanding of ocean acidification, from studies of how the chemistry of the ocean is changing to how marine organisms, biodiversity and ecosystems respond to ocean acidification, thus improving knowledge of their resistance or susceptibility to acidification, to help inform future management practices.

A key finding has been that the impact of ocean acidification is strongly dependent on interaction with other stressors associated with global change, notably temperature increases and we have shown that ocean acidification is having a marked effect upon ocean chemistry, most notably the nitrogen cycle and production of climate-relevant trace gases such as DMS and halocarbons.

We are also developing techniques to assess ocean acidification using satellites, which will enable monitoring on a global scale with a relatively low-cost when compared to in situ measurements.

Making a difference

Our research has raised the profile of ocean acidification and informed policy at an international level and has contributed to discussions at several major events including several UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, including providing input to the 2015 Paris agreement. At a national level, we gave extensive written and oral evidence to the recent UK parliamentary inquiry on ocean acidification.

PML also leads the European hub of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network.


Mediterranean Sea Acidification in a changing climate (MedSeA)

Mediterranean Sea Acidification in a changing climate (MedSeA)

Contact: Dr Andy Rees

The MedSeA project assesses uncertainties, risks and thresholds related to the acidification of Mediterranean seas, at organismal, ecosystem and...

Marine Ecosystems Research Programme (MERP)

Marine Ecosystems Research Programme (MERP)

Contact: Dr Paul Somerfield

The Marine Ecosystems Research Programme (MERP) will address key knowledge gaps in marine ecosystem research. By bringing together existing data...

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Ocean acidification: yes, it’s serious

A new international report “An updated synthesis of the impacts of ocean acidification on marine biodiversity” shows beyond doubt that ocean acidification is an issue of serious environmental and policy concern.


PML supports $2 million XPRIZE seeking new sensors to study ocean acidification

PML has been named official supporter of the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE foundation, following the exciting announcement this week that XPRIZE will be offering a $2-million prize challenge to an innovator who can build cheaper and better pH sensors in the quest for a...


Microscopic marine creatures may lose teeth as ocean acidification kicks in

PML scientists meet with other top marine experts from around the globe in St Andrews, Scotland, this week to share their knowledge on the threat posed by increasing amounts of carbon dioxide entering the sea.

Selected key publications

Queiros, AM; Fernandes, JA; Nunes, J; Rastrick, S; Mieszkowska, N; Artioli, Y; Yool, A; Calosi, P; Arvanitidis, C; Findlay, HS; Barange, M; Cheung, W; Widdicombe, S. 2015 Scaling up experimental ocean acidification and warming research: from individuals to the ecosystem. Global Change Biology, 21 (1). 130-143. 10.1111/gcb.12675

Hopkins, FE; Archer, SD. 2014 Consistent increase in dimethyl sulphide (DMS) in response to high CO2 in five shipboard bioassays from contrasting NW European waters [in special issue: Field investigation of ocean acidification effects in northwest European seas] Biogeosciences Discussions, 11. 2267-2303. 10.5194/bgd-11-2267-2014

Widdicombe, S; Spicer, JI. 2008 Predicting the impact of ocean acidification on benthic biodiversity: What can animal physiology tell us?. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 366. 187 - 197. 10.1016/j.jembe.2008.07.024

Related recent publications

  1. Williamson, P; Turley, CM. 2016 How can we minimise negative effects on ocean health? Policy card E1-E2. AVOID and UKOA programmes, 2pp. (UNSPECIFIED)
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  2. Hartman, S; Humphreys, MP; Kivimae, C; Woodward, EMS ; Kitidis, V ; McGrath, T; Hydes, DJ; Greenwood, N; Hull, T; Ostle, C; Pearce, D; Sivyer, D; Stewart, BM; Walsham, P; Painter, SC; McGovern, E; Harris, C; Griffiths, A; Smilenova, A; Clarke, J; Davis, C; Sanders, R; Nightingale, P. 2018 Seasonality and spatial heterogeneity of the surface ocean carbonate system in the northwest European continental shelf. Progress in Oceanography. 10.1016/j.pocean.2018.02.005
    View publication

  3. Lindeque, PK; Cripps, G; Flynn, KJ. 2016 Ocean Acidification Affects the Phyto-Zoo Plankton Trophic Transfer Efficiency. PLOS ONE, 11 (4). e0151739. 10.1371/journal.pone.0151739
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  4. Venello, TA; Calosi, P; Turner, LM; Findlay, HS. 2017 Overwintering individuals of the Arctic krill Thysanoessa inermis appear tolerant to short term exposure to low pH conditions. Polar Biology. 10.1007/s00300-017-2194-0
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  5. Turley, CM; Boot, K; Williamson, P. 2017 What has the UK Ocean Acidification research programme told us? An infographic for Defra.. [Dissemination / Communication]
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