• A personal note on IGBP and the social sciences

    Humans are an integral component of the Earth system as conceptualised by IGBP. João Morais recalls key milestones in IGBP’s engagement with the social sciences and offers some words of advice for Future Earth.
  • IGBP and Earth observation:
    a co-evolution

    The iconic images of Earth beamed back by the earliest spacecraft helped to galvanise interest in our planet’s environment. The subsequent evolution and development of satellites for Earth observation has been intricately linked with that of IGBP and other global-change research programmes, write Jack Kaye and Cat Downy .
Published: April 1, 2009
First published in IGBP's Global Change Newsletter Issue 73, April 2009

Impact of ocean acidification on underwater sound

Features |
The Ocean in a High-CO2 World: Science highlights from the symposium
David G. Browning
University of Rhode Island
Physics Department
Kingston RI, USA

Peter M. Scheifele
Department of Communications, Sciences & Disorders
University of Cincinnati Medical Center
Cincinnati OH, USA

Thirty years ago, scientists trying to determine the absorption of low frequency sound in seawater in order to develop new navy sonar systems, discovered, somewhat surprisingly, that this absorption is pH dependent: the lower the pH the less the absorption. Today this discovery has an implication for ocean acidification: as the ocean acidifies it will become noisier! Lower absorption (the pH change predicted in a recent Royal Society Report [1] would cut the absorption in half) will result in a smaller propagation loss which means that at a given distance from a noise source (such as a ship’s propeller) the sound level will be louder than it previously was. It is presently the subject of legal contention whether noise levels can cause significant distress to marine mammals but if there is a problem ocean acidification could make it worse. As with other predicted effects, the absorption change would have the greatest impact soonest in specific situations. For example underwater sound typically propagates along the axis of a naturally occurring sound channel – in many areas this axis is over 1,000 meters deep which means that it would take a significant time for pH change to work down the water column. In some locations such as the North Pacific Ocean, however, a shallow secondary sound channel exists where the impact should be observed sooner.

For a more detailed explanation of the ocean chemistry see: Hester K. C., E. T. Peltzer, W. J. Kirkwood, P. G. Brewer. “Unanticipated consequences of ocean acidification: A noisier ocean at lower pH”, Geophysical Research Letters, 35: L19601 (1 October 2008).

Acidification of the ocean results in a noisier ocean.
1. Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, Royal Society policy document 12/05, June 2005, ISBN 0 85403 617 2
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