Students Staff

20 June 2011

Essex scientists set sail

Colchester Campus

Stars indicate locations where seawater will be collected for shipboard experiments UPDATED:

University of Essex scientists are part of an international research project investigating the impact of increasing ocean acidification on global environmental and climate change.

A total of 24 scientists from eight UK institutes, led by the National Oceanography Centre Southampton, are spending five weeks on board research vessel RRS Discovery as it cruises across the territorial waters of seven different nations.

The aim is to increase understanding of the ocean acidification process and start to answer some of the questions about its effect on global climate and those who rely on the sea for their livelihood.

‘More than two billion tonnes of carbon are entering the ocean as carbon dioxide every year, over and above the natural amount ‘, explained consortium leader Dr Toby Tyrrell of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science. ‘This extra carbon dioxide is making seawater more acidic, with consequences for marine life that remain poorly understood.’

The Essex team, Drs David Suggett, Tracy Lawson, Evelyn Lawrenz and PhD student Laura Bretherton will be examining the effects of ocean acidification on phytoplankton productivity throughout this project.

As well as providing a valuable food source for marine life phytoplankton is responsible for much of the oxygen in our atmosphere. Dr Suggett explained: ‘We already know from research conducted in our labs at Essex and elsewhere that ocean acidification can impact certain species of phytoplankton.

‘How this translates into affecting real phytoplankton communities in nature, and what implications are for their role in regulating our climate and as a good source is almost entirely unknown.’

The team ultimately hope that their research will enable scientists to better predict how ocean productivity is affected by climate and environmental change, as Dr Suggett explained: ’This fieldwork is incredibly important to begin to identify the effects first-hand.’

The research is part of the UK Ocean Acidification research programme funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and two government departments, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

You can follow the cruise at 

More information on the UK Ocean Acidification programme:

Notes to editors
Press contacts: Dr Rory Howlett, Media and Communications Officer, National Oceanography Centre, telephone 023 8059 8490, e-mail

University of Essex Communications Office, telephone 01206 872807, e-mail
The participating institutes are as follows: University of Southampton; National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and Liverpool; Plymouth Marine Laboratory; Heriot-Watt University; University of East Anglia; University of Essex; Marine Biological Association; and the University of Oxford.

The ship departed from Southampton on 7 June and is due to finish on 11 July. 

Image: The stars indicate locations where seawater will be collected for shipboard experiments.

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