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Public understanding in Great Britain of ocean acidification


Public engagement with climate change is critical for maintaining the impetus for meaningful emissions cuts. Ocean acidification (OA) is increasingly recognized by marine scientists as an important, but often overlooked, consequence of anthropogenic emissions1,2. Although substantial evidence now exists concerning people’s understanding of climate change more generally3, very little is known about public perceptions of OA. Here, for the first time, we characterize in detail people’s understanding of this topic using survey data obtained in Great Britain (n = 2,501) during 2013 and 2014. We draw on theories of risk perception and consider how personal values influence attitudes towards OA. We find that public awareness of OA is very low compared to that of climate change, and was unaffected by the publication of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Using an experimental approach, we show that providing basic information can heighten concern about OA, however, we find that attitude polarization along value-based lines may occur if the topic is explicitly associated with climate change. We discuss the implications of our findings for public engagement with OA, and the importance of learning lessons from communications research relating to climate change.

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Figure 1: Level of public knowledge about ocean acidification.
Figure 2: Imagery and affective associations with ocean acidification.


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The research was funded by the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme (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). We thank P. Williamson of the University of East Anglia for helpful comments and advice, and E. Roberts for assistance with coding of image associations.

Author information




S.B.C. led the study design, analysis and writing. N.F.P., A.J.C. and E.M.S. contributed to the study design, analysis and writing. P.N.P. contributed to the study design and writing.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Stuart B. Capstick or Nick F. Pidgeon.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Capstick, S., Pidgeon, N., Corner, A. et al. Public understanding in Great Britain of ocean acidification. Nature Clim Change 6, 763–767 (2016).

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