Press release

BIOACID - Major research project examines ocean acidification

[01. September 2009] 

The major research project BIOACID (Biological Impacts of Ocean ACIDification) starts today. It is a joint project which examines the repercussions of oceanic acidification on marine biological communities. The effects of oceanic acidification on lime formation, and growth and development of marine organisms will be examined in an interdisciplinary collaboration within the framework of BIOACID. The project is funded with 8.500.000 Euros by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with the participation of 14 German research institutes and universities. The project is headed by the Leibnitz Institute of Marine Science (IFM-GEOMAR) in Kiel. The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association is responsible as deputy for the coordination and receives 2.9 million Euros of project funds.

The warming oceans annually absorb one third of the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil energies. On dissolving in the sea water, carbon dioxide turns into carbon acid and the concentration of carbonates decreases. This phenomenon is called ocean acidification. The shortage of sufficient carbonates limits the ability of various marine organisms to build calcified shells and skeletal structures. Whole ecosystems like coral reefs are affected, too. Field investigations show that effects of ocean acidification on calcium carbonate builders can even be seen today. Furthermore, some habitats which are naturally enriched with volcanic carbon dioxide show a different species composition. The additional influx of carbon dioxide has the cause that only a few calcium carbonate buliders can survive. Others cannot find sufficient carbonates to build their shells. In contrast to this, the full extent of ocean acidification and its effects on individual species as well as whole ecosystems and eventually on fishery is so far unclear.

The Polar Regions are apt to react in a particularly delicate way to ocean acidification. “The solubility of CO2  is great in cold waters”, explains Prof. Dr. Hans-Otto Pörtner, animal physiologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute and deputy coordinator of the project. “The initial situation and thereby expected future changes in water chemistry are more unfavourable than in warmer waters. Furthermore, many biological processes happen more slowly in polar waters because of the low temperatures. This means that the ability of organisms to compensate an increased CO2- enrichment is probably limited”. Species adapted to the extreme conditions react in a particularly delicate way to changes. Therefore, the Polar Regions are an exemplary model region to examine shifts in the food web and ecosystems caused by ocean acidification. “The Alfred Wegener Institute will make an important contribution with its competency in the area of polar marine research to the examinations in the framework of BIOACID”, concludes Pörtner.

For more information and a list of all project partners of the joint project BIOACID please consult the press release of the IFM-GEOMAR (german language).

Notes for editors:

Your contact persons at the Alfred Wegener Institute are Prof Dr Hans-Otto Pörtner (phone: +49 471 4831 1307, email: Hans.Poertner@awi.de) and in the department Communication and Media Dr Ude Cieluch (phone: +49 471 4831-2008; email: Ude.Cieluch@awi.de).


The Alfred Wegener Institute carries out research in the Arctic and Antarctic as well as in the high and mid latitude oceans. The institute coordinates German polar research and provides international science with important infrastructure, e.g. the research icebreaker Polarstern and research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of 16 research centres within the Helmholtz Association, Germany’s largest scientific organization.

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The Institute

The Alfred Wegener Institute pursues research in the polar regions and the oceans of mid and high latitudes. As one of the 19 centres of the Helmholtz Association it coordinates polar research in Germany and provides ships like the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations for the international scientific community.