Greenpeace Arctic expedition investigates effects of excess carbon dioxide in oceans

Press release - 3 June, 2010
NY-ÅLESUND, Svalbard - A groundbreaking, Greenpeace-supported experiment investigating how carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution threatens the world’s oceans with acidification, started today at the Arctic scientific base Ny-Ålesund, in Svalbard, 1,200km from the North Pole.

NY-ÅLESUND, Svalbard, 3 June 2010 - A groundbreaking, Greenpeace-supported experiment investigating how carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution threatens the world’s oceans with acidification, started today at the Arctic scientific base Ny-Ålesund, in Svalbard, 1,200km from the North Pole.

The experiment, the first of its kind, is being led by scientists from the German marine research institute IFM-GEOMAR (Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences), with assistance from the Greenpeace ship ‘Esperanza’, as part of the Greenpeace Arctic Under Pressure Expedition [1].

“Increasing carbon dioxide pollution is causing the acidification of our oceans, threatening to damage or destroy fragile marine ecosystems,” said Greenpeace campaigner Frida Bengtsson, on board the ‘Esperanza’. “Like the climate crisis, human fingerprints are all over this looming disaster”.

“Governments gathering in Bonn for the latest round of climate negotiations must add ocean acidification to the list of compelling reasons to agree a fair, ambitious and legally binding deal. We need to end our addiction to fossil fuels, and make immediate and substantial cuts to CO2 emissions,” she said.

The ‘Esperanza’ transported nine large marine ‘test tubes’ – mesocosms -- from Kiel, Germany to Ny-Ålesund and helped deploy them in the nearby Kongsfjord, where they are being used to investigate future effects of ocean acidification on the marine ecosystem [2].

While CO2 pollution is absorbed faster by cold Arctic water than in the warm seas further south, the effects of acidification are already being seen throughout the oceans. Since the industrial revolution, the alkaline waters of the world’s oceans have been moving towards acidity, making survival difficult for shell-building marine animals, which play key roles in the food web, including corals, shellfish, plankton and other organisms that form the diet of fish, birds, marine mammals and even humans [3].

“The oceans have been acidifying since the industrial revolution," said Professor Ulf Riebesell of IFM-GEOMAR, leader of the ocean acidification project at Ny-Ålesund. “This is measurable; we know that the oceans have acidified by 30 per cent since then [4]. If we continue to emit CO2 at the current rate, ocean acidity will have increased by another 100 percent before the end of this century. This is far beyond what organisms have experienced in their evolutionary history for at least the last 20 million years.”

The ocean acidification experiment continues until July. Meanwhile, the ‘Esperanza’ will continue its Arctic Under Pressure Expedition throughout the northern summer, exposing and documenting other key threats to the wildlife and environment of the Arctic Ocean. This includes the fishing industry’s northward race to exploit areas of ocean previously protected by the sea ice.


Notes to Editors:

(1) The Greenpeace ship Esperanza will carry out the 'Arctic Under Pressure" Expedition from 24 May onwards. The ocean acidification experiments will take place from 27 May to 12 July; exposing fishing fleets' northward race from 8 June to 6 July.

(2) IFM-GEOMAR’s equipment, featuring nine large structures called mesocosms, creates isolated columns of seawater in the Kongsfjord as the basis for the experiments. Each weighs two tons, is the height of two double-decker buses and will enclose 50 cubic metres of water.

CO2 concentration will be increased by adding high-CO2 water into the mesocosms to give a range of concentrations from present values (~200 uatm) to those expected by the middle of the next century (~2,500 uatm), producing different levels of acidification. Over five weeks, scientists will take daily samples to monitor changes in the chemistry and biology of the seawater trapped within each mesocosm, testing what happens under increasing CO2 and acidification.
See: The scientists will be based at the international research station King’s Bay, on Svalbard’s west coast. In summer the station comprises scientists from many institutions and countries specialising in environmental and earth science research.

(3) Ocean acidification is caused by rising CO2 levels in the oceans as a result of burning of fossil fuels and forest destruction. Oceans absorb around 8 billion tonnes of the CO2 produced by humans each year through use of fossil fuels alone. IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Chapter 7, Table 7.1 (page 516) and Section 7.3.2 (pages 515-526);

(4) pH is not a linear scale, but a logarithmic one. A small decrease in pH (e.g. from 8.2 to 8.1) actually represents a much more substantial increase (around 30%) in levels of acidity.


On shore:

Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International communications, tel: +44 7717 802 891

Dr. Andreas Villwock, IFM-GEOMAR press office, tel: +49 431 600 2802

On board the ‘Esperanza’:

Dave Walsh, Greenpeace International Communications, on Iridium satellite phone: +88 16 777 01411/2

Extensive photo and video are available from:

Emma Stoner, Greenpeace International photo desk, +44 7554 934 750

Lucy Campbell-Jackson, Greenpeace International video desk, +31 634 738 790

More information about the Arctic Under Pressure expedition is available at