Show transcript

[Text appears on screen: Where does half the world’s oxygen come from?]

[Music plays and image changes to show Nick looking out from a hill top over a valley] 

Nick Roden: I’m Nick and I’m an oceanographer. I study the chemical changes that are happening to our ocean as a result of our carbon dioxide emissions, otherwise knowns as ocean acidification.

[Image changes to show Nick working with scientific equipment]

Most of my work is done in the Southern Ocean and around Antarctica.

[Image changes to show a large iceberg]

I’ve spent nearly two years of my life doing field work in some of the coldest and most remote places on the planet.

[Image changes to show two snow mobiles out on the ice and then changes to show Nick working inside the laboratory]

I came to science later than many; in fact I was actually a golf professional in my earlier days.

[Image changes to show Nick playing golf]

I soon discovered though that I wasn’t a very good one, so I thought that a career change was in order, and it wasn’t until one of my coaching clients suggested I go and study science at university that my life took on a different path.

[Image changes to show Nick seated and sharing a meal with other people and then changes to show Nick back in the laboratory talking with a colleague]

My longest expedition to Antarctica was for 13-months, during that time I worked as a weather observer for the Bureau of Metrology.

[Image changes to show Nick standing on a snow covered mountain looking out over the ice]

So I had a bit of spare time on my hands, I took on some voluntary work for CSIRO collecting seawater from beneath the sea ice.

[Camera pans over different scientific equipment]

It was during this field work for CSIRO that I discovered how amazing and how fragile these polar environments are. We discovered that the ocean acidity had changed much greater than we anticipated.

[Image changes to show different shots of demountable buildings with the Aurora Australis in the sky and then moves to show Nick looking at a CSIRO ship]

Most people don’t realise that over 90-per cent of the excess heat energy that’s being trapped in the earth system over the last 50-years, is it actually ends up in the ocean.

[Image changes to show Nick reading information from a laptop]

So when we’re talking about global warming, we should really be talking about ocean warming in a very real sense. The most serious changes that we’ll see in the earths system as a result of climate change will stem from the ocean, without a doubt.

[Image changes to show Nick standing on rocks on a hill top overlooking a valley]

One thing that still blows my mind about the ocean is that every second breath we take contains oxygen that was produced by microscopic plants or phytoplankton that drift in the worlds ocean. So even if you live in one of the most remotest, sandiest, driest deserts in the world, you still have a very real connection to what’s happening in your oceans, simply by the fact that you’re breathing air.

[CSIRO logo appears with text: Find out more csiro.au/seven]

Show transcript

Meet Nick

From the greens of the golf course to the bright white of Antarctica’s snow fields, Nick Roden traded in life as a pro golfer to lend himself to researching one of the largest and most misunderstood environments known to man: the ocean.

How does a pro golfer end up in a science lab full time?

Given that the ocean covers 70 per cent of the earth’s surface, studying the ocean felt like one of the most important things I could do at a time when we need fast answers for some big and very urgent environmental problems.

One fact that I learnt about the ocean that completely blew my mind is that every second breath we take contains oxygen made by phytoplankton living in the ocean. We commonly accept that trees give us the air we breathe, and forget there’s a tiny organism living in the ocean that is completely crucial to us continuing to live on planet Earth.

How did that research take you to the snow fields of Antarctica?

As it happens, Antarctica is one of the best places to research and study ocean acidity, which is the part of the ocean equation that really came to capture my attention.

As well as giving us oxygen, the oceans also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – around 25 per cent of the emissions from human activities are sucked out of the atmosphere by the ocean. In real numbers, that’s more than 2 billion tonnes of carbon a year.

But the increased amount of carbon dioxide being produced is causing rapid acidification of the ocean, which has huge potential impact on the earth’s environment – and this is precisely the area that I’m focusing on in my PhD research.

How does your PhD research on acidification of the ocean contribute to the issue?

The knock-on effects of ocean acidification are clear to guess – it could have an impact on the organisms living in the sea that don’t have millions of years to evolve to their rapidly changing environment. This in turn could have an effect on their ability to provide us with life-giving oxygen.

The potential impact is huge, but right now we don’t actually know what it is because ocean acidification and its effects on benthic (sea-floor dwelling organisms) communities is a relatively new area of research.

Facts & figures

Our oceans and climate

  • Every second breath you take comes from ocean algae, not trees
  • Oceans make up 97 per cent of Earth's water
  • The ocean absorbs around 25 per cent of our carbon emissions.

Our changing ocean

  • Global average sea-level is rising by around 3mm each year
  • Carbon absorption is increasing the acidity of our oceans
  • More than 90 per cent of the heat due to global warming is absorbed by our oceans.

Find out more

Ask Nick a question or get the very latest news, stories and breakthroughs that will help you, your family and Australia.

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