28.05.2018 | The Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) has been successful in the recently launched research initiative for the Paris Climate Agreement with which Germany and France are strengthening research on climate change. A jury of experts from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) selected 13 renowned international scientists from around 300 applications as project leaders in Germany. The geoscientist Dr Henry C. Wu won the competition for the ZMT in the field of Earth System Research. The DAAD is funding his project with one million euros from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
As part of the five-year project “Witnesses to the Climate Emergency: Ocean acidification crisis and global warming observations from tropical corals (OASIS)” Henry Wu will investigate the development of ocean acidification in the tropical seas. Scientific knowledge on the effects of ocean acidification in the tropics has so far been very limited. This is due to the lack of long-term pH measurements and proxy reconstructions in the tropical ocean.
By analysing boron isotopes in the skeleton of long-lived tropical corals, Wu will determine past and present changes in seawater pH across various geographical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Not only will he reconstruct the pH changes before and since the Industrial Revolution, he will also investigate the associated changes in sea surface temperature and carbonate chemistry of the tropical oceans (see also project description below).
“Tropical reefs react strongly to climate change; increased water temperatures lead to coral bleaching; ocean acidification influences the growth of calcifying corals in complex ways," said ZMT Director Hildegard Westphal, head of the Geoecology and Carbonate Sedimentology Working Group of which Wu is a member.
Henry Wu will set up his own research group at the ZMT in the coming months with regular meetings and conferences planned with the French counterpart researchers selected in the French programme. Thus, the Franco-German research cooperation will be expanded at the same time.
With his project, Henry Wu is part of the Franco-German programme “Make Our Planet Great Again”, which both governments agreed upon following the Paris Climate Agreement. The programme is designed for a total of five years and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with 15 million euros.
Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek views the promotion of top-level research as a central building block of the Paris Climate Agreement: "Policymakers need solid scientific facts in order to make good decisions that will limit climate change and control its negative consequences. For us, scientific findings are the basis of our actions. Germany and France agree that we want to offer internationally distinguished scientists the best research opportunities.”
Of the 13 scientists selected for Germany, seven come from the USA, two were last employed in Great Britain and one each in Switzerland, Canada, South Korea and Australia. They were selected from around 300 applications in the areas of "Climate Change", "Earth System Research" and "Energy Transition”.
"The numerous excellent applications show that Germany offers excellent conditions for international researchers," said DAAD President Professor Margret Wintermantel. "The selected projects will make a significant contribution to promote research in the areas of climate, energy and the Earth system and will, in addition, establish internationally sustainable research collaborations."
Project description: “Witnesses to the Climate Emergency: Ocean acidification crisis and global warming observations from tropical corals (OASIS)”:
Our oceans absorb considerable amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Earth's atmosphere. When excess CO2 reacts with seawater, carbonic acid is formed and the pH of the seawater decreases. This process is known as ocean acidification and has consequences for calcifying organisms such as corals, mussels, and some plankton species to fully build their functional skeletons.
As part of the five-year project "Witnesses to the Climate Emergency: Ocean acidification crisis and global warming observations from tropical corals (OASIS)”, Henry Wu will investigate the development of ocean acidification in the tropical oceans because the scientific knowledge on the effects of ocean acidification in the tropics has so far been very limited. This is due to the lack of long-term pH measurements and proxy reconstructions in the tropical ocean.
By analysing boron isotopes in long-lived tropical corals, Wu aims to determine the pH values of seawater in various geographical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Boron is a natural component of seawater and its isotopes are sensitive to changes in ocean pH. Corals take in this seawater to form their calcareous skeleton. Thus, any change in pH can be detected in the isotopes of boron incorporated in the coral skeleton.
By determining the pH over the most recent few hundred years, Wu can reconstruct the global development of ocean acidification and rates of pH change as well as the carbonate content of our tropical oceans before and after the Industrial Revolution. These results will provide valuable data to understand the levels of CO2 penetrating into the oceans and draw conclusions on the changes in climate parameters.
The scientific results of this project will provide sound information for policymakers and stakeholders who are committed to mitigating the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere and its negative consequences.
The OASIS project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under the "Make our Planet Great Again – German Research Initiative", grant number 57429626, implemented by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).