Nav: Home

Study shows 4 out of 5 British people are unaware of ocean acidification

May 09, 2016

A survey of 2,501 members of the public has revealed that just one in five people in Britain are aware of ocean acidification - a consequence of carbon emissions that poses serious risks to sea-life.

Furthermore, just 14% of the sample report that they have even basic knowledge about the subject.

The results of the public survey, which have been published today, 9 May, in the journal Nature Climate Change, are the first detailed assessment of the public's understanding of ocean acidification.

While public awareness of climate change is now almost universal, the study authors, from Cardiff University, conclude that the same cannot be said for this parallel environmental issue, sometimes dubbed 'the other CO2 problem'.

As more and more CO2 is put into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels, approximately a third of it is absorbed by the oceans. When CO2 dissolves in seawater it forms carbonic acid, making the oceans less alkaline and more acidic. Since the 1980s, the acidity of the oceans has increased by 30% and, if CO2 continues to be emitted at today's rate, it is set to increase by 150% by 2100. This poses a substantial risk to marine organisms and ecosystems.

To reach their conclusions, the Cardiff University researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,501 members of the British public. Although just 20% of respondents had heard of ocean acidification, the term prompted a range of negative associations among respondents, with many making an immediate connection with harm to marine organisms and ecosystems; others made incorrect associations with marine pollution from oils spills and chemical waste.

The researchers also set out to assess whether scientific reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during 2013 and 2014 might have affected levels of public awareness of ocean acidification. These widely-reported assessments focussed more than ever on the role of the oceans in relation to climate change, but were found not to have raised awareness of ocean acidification among the general public in the study.

Dr Stuart Capstick, the lead author of the study from the University' School of Psychology, said: "Although we didn't expect to find high levels of awareness or understanding of ocean acidification, we were surprised at just how overlooked this topic seems to be. By now, just about everyone has heard of climate change and a majority of people understand our part in it - even if we don't all agree on what should be done - but only a small proportion of our sample said they knew anything much about ocean acidification.

"Scientific studies over the past few years have demonstrated the importance of ocean acidification for marine ecosystems and the people that depend on them, but we have barely scratched the surface in terms of bringing this issue to the attention of the public and policy-makers."

The research also examined whether the provision of some basic, technical information about ocean acidification would lead to a change in attitudes among the study participants. The researchers did indeed observe a substantial jump in stated levels of concern in response to this information.

Dr Capstick cautioned however that their findings showed that the connection between ocean acidification and climate change could be a double-edged sword for those seeking to communicate about this issue: "We provided study participants with one of two information types - either linking ocean acidification to climate change, or describing it as a stand-alone issue. When we made a direct connection between the two topics, part of our sample was less responsive to the information, perhaps due to an overriding scepticism among some people regarding climate change itself."

Given the technical nature of ocean acidification, and its complex relationship with climate change, the researchers suggest that a more fruitful approach to engaging people about this important environmental topic could be to present it in terms of a risk to ocean health as well as stressing its importance for food security in parts of the world that are most-dependent on fisheries.
-end-
The research was carried out as part of the UK Ocean Acidification research programme (UKOA). This programme, now completed, was co-funded by the UK Natural Environmental Research Council; Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Cardiff University

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.