As the Arctic sea ice melts, it is expected traffic and resource exploration in the region will grow. This is why a team at Bigelow Laboratory, a research centre in Maine, US, is investigating the potential consequences of an oil spill in cold waters. “While microbes in warmer waters are known to play a large role in digesting oil, little is known about how microbes specific to the Arctic react to oil,” the laboratory's annual review reads.
The researchers are measuring the effects of various oil treatments on microbial communities in surface waters and sea ice. The team is also examining the ability of microbes to mitigate oiled beach environments in the Arctic. This outcomes will be used to develop more effective means of spill response.
The report also highlighted research into ocean acidification. Scientists predict a decrease of 0.3 pH units in the next 100 years. This increase in acidity will impact shelled organisms the most, such as clams, oysters, scallops, and sea snails by reducing their ability to make protective shells.
A team of Bigelow Laboratory scientists are looking at the interaction of ocean acidification and the microbial release of trace gases that may bring about cloud formation. Cloud formation and its cooling effects can help to mitigate climate change, while reduced cloud formation can amplify warming.
The team has quantified these interactions in both Arctic waters and in tropical waters off the Canary Islands. This year the team brought the experiment in-house, where they used mesocosms—large tanks where environmental conditions can be controlled and manipulated—in the Laboratory’s Seawater Suite to test what might occur if the ocean continues to acidify over the next century.
The team has noted a relationship between increased ocean acidity and decreased trace gas emissions in the surface ocean, and predicts that these effects could potentially amplify man-made warming by diminishing cloud cover.