CGSE, Brisbane Marine Center

Dr. Benjamin Rush founded Dickinson with a unique vision of the liberal arts in mind.  Rush's Dickinson was not to be a place of removed contemplation but of active engagement with the wider world.  Today, Dickinson students utilize the timeless rigors of liberal learning to confront the most critical challenges of our globalized age, with the College's research and study centers abroad functioning as living laboratories.  This section highlights recent student-faculty global research projects.  What will you do abroad  . . . ?    

Global Scholars Student-Faculty Research Team on Ocean Acidification:

Dr. Tom Arnold (Biology) pioneered Dickinson's inaugural Global Scholars Honors Program at the Dickinson Brisbane Center, leading an interdisciplinary team of student-researchers in their investigation of the causes and effects of ocean acidification.  Students were not only engaged in the field research and data collection, but they continue to work under Professor Arnold's direction back on campus in Carlisle, preparing their findings for publication.

Student-Faculty Research in BrisbaneOcean acidification (OA) has been called "the evil twin" of climate change.  Ignored or unappreciated for decades, this phenomenon begins with the absorption of atmospheric CO2 by the oceans which results in changes in ocean chemistry, including a reduction in the pH of seawater.

The good news is that approximately one-third of CO2 emissions have been soaked up by the oceans, which has slowed global warming.

The bad new is that this CO2 triggers the formation of carbonic acid, the reduction of seawater pH, the destruction of carbonate ions required to produce the calcium carbonate skeletons of hard corals, the shells of oysters, clams, and scallops, and the coverings of critical species of oxygen-producing phytoplankton.

A high CO2 / low pH world can cause dramatic reductions in the growth of corals and certain seaweeds.  Some have predicted that within this century the combination of acidification and higher sea temperatures will trigger the loss of reefs worldwide.  The growth of certain shellfish species may be affected as well. For example, the Chesapeake Bay oyster suffers reduced growth and a thinning of shells at low pH.  On the West Coast of the U.S., several aquaculture facilities struggle to grow shellfish where once they had been plentiful.  Unfortunately, the effects of OA have been examined for only a few marine species, so it is difficult to predict how marine communities are likely to respond to acidification.

The only way to study the potential impacts of OA on marine species in situ is by using a Free-Ocean-Carbon-Enrichment (F.O.C.E.) system. Only three operational systems exist -- one was designed at UQ and another was developed in Dr. Arnold's lab here at Dickinson. F.O.C.E. systems mimic the conditions of climate change -- and in particular the high CO2 /low pH conditions of ocean acidification -- under otherwise natural conditions. The Dickinson F.O.C.E. system was designed as a portable, near-shore system and was tested in 2009-2011 in Florida and Maryland (USA). Student teams use the F.O.C.E. system to investigate further the impact of OA and to help address what was deemed a high-priority, critical need by no fewer than five international panels on ocean acidification.