CO2-in-seawater reference materials: yesterday, today, and tomorrow

March 16, 9:00 to 10:30am PDT


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The U.S. Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification presents:

CO2-in-seawater reference materials:

yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Professor Andrew Dickson

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

March 16, 2021

9am Pacific (UTC -7:00)


We welcome all who work on ocean acidification and ocean carbonate chemistry studies to attend. This is the first community engagement in a larger effort to increase the resilience of the production and distribution of ocean carbonate chemistry reference materials.


In 1989, the US National Science Foundation awarded a grant to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in preparation for the upcoming US JGOFS program. This grant was intended to enable the preparation of standards for the measurement of the CO2 properties of seawater that could be distributed to laboratories participating in the program so as to assure the production of a coherent data set from the differing labs and methodologies likely to be involved in the program. The model for this activity was the production and distribution of IAPSO Standard Seawater. This initial program was expanded through additional support from the US Department of Energy to enable international distribution to laboratories making CO2 measurement as part of the extensive joint ocean survey supported by JGOFS and  the WOCE Hydrographic Program.

Since then – and despite various setbacks – the Scripps Laboratory has produced such reference materials consistently, and has distributed them to a wide variety of laboratories around the world who are involved in ocean CO2 measurements.  Since the early 2000s, and as a consequence of the growth in interest in studies of ocean acidification, this has grown to a substantial activity (~10,000 bottles of reference material distributed per year to a large number of laboratories in many different countries around the world). Throughout this time, Scripps has been supported in this activity by the US National Science Foundation alone (the US DOE withdrew in 1997).

The recent COVID19 pandemic last year led to a sudden halt in our activities as a consequence of restrictions imposed both by the State of California, and by UC San Diego. We are only now (2021) starting to prepare such reference materials again, and presently only in reduced quantities. Consequently, this provides an incentive to review the needs for such materials (both within the US and world-wide), and to plan for their longer-term future. It should be noted that in the 30+ years during which we have been in operation, the only other country that has even embarked upon a similar activity is Japan.

In addition to a historical overview of the activities and achievements of the Scripps Laboratory, I shall provide a statement as to our current activities and immediate plans and will lay out what I believe is needed in the way of resources to ensure that the current US capacity to produce calibrated reference materials continues unabated. I shall also provide some guidance for others who may wish to embark on similar activities, and outline my own views as to what is required to ensure that the world is able to provide sufficient reference materials to ensure the quality of marine CO2 measurements into the foreseeable future.

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