Ask A Scientist!

If you have any comments we would love to hear from you, hopefully we will be able to answer any questions you have…


  1. Hi! I am an undergrad student at the University of Georgia. I’ve recently started a research project for my senior thesis which is closely related to what you’re doing here. My first task is to find a way to accurately measure pH levels in arctic (antarctic in my case) at temperatures around 1.9C. Any insight you could offer would be most appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hi Will,

      We had some difficulty with our pH probes being very slow to respond at such low temperatures so my main advice would be to make sure you buy a pH probe that not only accurately measure pH but also has a wide working temperature range (i.e. below zero if possible, you should be able to check this on the spec sheets that come with the probes). Secondly I would advise you to think carefully about how you set up your acidification system, there are several methods in the literature, check out Widdicombe & Needham (2007) for a methods description similar to the set-up we used here, although we used different pH controllers, the principles are the same. And thirdly, make sure you take good measurements of all the CO2 parameters. There is a guide to best practises on the EPOCA website, which can advise on techniques:

      Finally, good luck, you will need time and patience! Please let us know how you get on, what organisms you are studying and if you have any more questions.

  2. Hi

    I’m not a scientist, but have an idea which could maybe assist in capturing raw data on ocean acidity. The vision was to harness the potential of a sequence of events which place a lot of people into remote mid ocean locations, to capture raw data for interested parties.

    Perhaps however, there is well established monitoring already in place. Perhaps only coastal measurements are useful. How acidity is measured, by whom, at what depths, at what temporal and spatial frequency, under which sea and atmospheric conditions and so on all evade me! Knowing nothing about the science or methodology involved in measuring such acidity, I have no idea whether the idea is feasible or even useful to the scientific community.

    Perhaps positioning the idea in general may be more useful. There are hundreds of small sailing boats that make ocean crossings each year. I have done so myself. Regarding the Atlantic specifically, the crossing of which occurs around November – January each year, the boats travel generally in a line from the Canaries to the Antilles. My thought was whether any scientific data collection (or other) service could be performed en route.

    I recognise there are problems of scientific control and validity, informed in part by some reading of EPOCA’s Guide to Best Practices at http://www.epoca-project.eu/index.php/Home/Guide-to-OA-Research/. For the current idea, 1) The exact course of the boats cannot be controlled, so specific long-lat locations could not be planned in advance. With upward of a potential 200 boats that I could access (there are dependencies on this however), within a band of say 15-25 degree North all the way across the ocean, the ‘random’ nature of the data capture might result in a spread of locations that would prove useful? 2) The individuals carrying out data collection would be laymen. Simple methodology would need to be used. 3) Measurements will be limited to surface level only, perhaps a few metres at most. 4) The collection would be limited largely to once a year for a particular ocean zone. Perhaps this frequency is of little use? 5) Other factors like air and water temp if valid would perhaps need to be factored?

    Degree’s of un/certainty would I’m sure need to reflect the ‘unscientific’ demographic of data collectors and the conditions of collection.

    Some positives. The collection would be done for free, or low cost at least, the cost being the PH testing kits. All major oceans could be covered – there are times each year when sailing fleets cross each major ocean, bar the Southern!

    These are opening thoughts. Do you think this idea has any legs? Could a fleet of sailing yachts capture any useful data (not just limited to PH) on Ocean crossings that might prove useful to anyone at all?

    If you are still reading this, Thanks for your time. I’d greatly appreciate any feedback / sources of info / contacts for potential interested parties / and any thoughts, in advance.



    • Hi Dan,

      Thanks for your message. Your proposition is certainly an interesting topic and one that has been nagging me personally for some time. I (like many marine scientists) also sail and my parents are part of a large cruising community that together with communities such as your own, cover most of the coastal, if not global, ocean. It would be absolutley fantastic to be able to utilise these vessels and enthusiastic people to take samples. However there are a few issues, which you have already touched on, that have prevented this idea from taking off.

      Firstly measurements, particularly of the seawater carbonate system, have to be taken accurately and using quite expensive equipment. Seawater pH ranges between about 7.8 – 8.2 and so detecting small changes in pH (<0.01 pH unit) are necessary. The off-the-shelf pH testing kits that you mention are not accurate enough to measure changes in pH in the ocean that would be useful for monitoring (they usually can be calibrate to a range of 4 – 10 pH units). There are a number of institutes working on making on-board pH meters that will be able to be used on research vessels and hopefully in the future on "ships of opportunities" aka SOOP. (SOOP generally take the form of commercial vessels such as cruise liners, ferries and cargo boats that regularly log their position and have the capability to take samples along their normal cruise paths, scientists can give over some equipment that is low maintenance and just collect data after a long time. You can check out their website:
      perhaps you can set up some salinity&temperature measurements with the SOOPs programme).

      Secondly, logistics and finances. Unfortunately, because of the lack of a cheap and easy way of monitoring the carbonate system, this sort of venture would require some serious financial backing. Unfortunately thats one of the things that the scientific community often struggles with. Logistically it would be difficult (but not impossible) to work up the data, as well as send out kits, collect samples, etc.

      If any advancements are made in the simplicity of montioring kits then I (and the rest of the scientific community) would be delighted for willing volunteers, such as yourself. We'll have to see what the future holds for this development…

      On the other hand, one example where this has worked is Dr Craig Venter from the US, who has made a lot of money through genetics and now sails around the world collecting samples to send back to his labs. (Although he has full research crew on board to do the work!)

      I hope that helps explain the problems but perhaps you can still get involved some how, either now or in the future.

      Best wishes and thanks for getting in touch.

  3. My name is Mya, I am 10 years old and in Grade 5. I am doing a science fair project on ‘Global Warming – Dying Oceans’. I have talked about greenhouse gases and the carbon dioxide cycle, changes in ocean levels, tides, currents, ocean chemistry and acidification. I’ve also talked about the effects on climate, marine life and habitat loss. My teacher wants me to get more recent information than I have been able to find. I’m wondering if you have any data from 2009/2010 that I could use?

    Thank you!


    Thank you!

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