Technology Development 

Monitoring Devices

Monitoring devices provide a hands-on tool for communities, industries and managers to adapt their practices when corrosive, or low pH, conditions occur.  The Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) is funding technology development on both the East and West coasts for monitoring devices which allow shellfish hatcheries and grow out operations to know when corrosive conditions are present so that they can adapt their methods. OAP required that these projects involve a private industry partner that could move the devices to commercial production. Complementing coastal monitoring, real-time data from offshore buoys now act as an early warning system for shellfish hatcheries, signaling the approach of cold, low pH seawater a day or two before it arrives in the sensitive coastal waters where young oyster larvae are produced. The data have enabled hatchery managers to schedule production when water quality is good and avoid wasting valuable energy and other resources when water quality is poor. Other adaptation approaches taken by hatcheries have included adding soda ash to low pH waters to raise it to levels shellfish can tolerate.

Biological Tools 

In some cases, natural marine ecosystems and species may already have ways to shelter neighboring habitats and organisms from ocean acidification by absorbing carbon dioxide from the seawater.  Scientists at multiple NOAA facilities are investigating kelp as one of these biological tools to draw down carbon dioxide from local waters.  OAP-funded scientists are studying kelp for this use in Puget Sound, where it can grow side by side with shellfish hatcheries to manage harmful effects of ocean acidification.  Similarly, OAP-funded scientists are also studying the beneficial effects of seagrass for local populations of corals, which is leading to the development of coral reef management strategies to protect seagrass beds.

Iron Fertilization

Iron fertilization is a controversial geoengineering approach suggested as a strategy to mitigate climate change. The approach entails adding iron to the oceans to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom, which would enhance the rate of carbon dioxide exchange from the atmosphere to the oceans. The effectiveness and feasibility of iron fertilization have been debated, but even if viable, this approach actually works directly counter to mitigating ocean acidification because it promotes the movement of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the ocean where it is the primary driver of ocean acidification. Research carried out by NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program has demonstrated that phytoplankton blooms actually generate low pH/high carbon dioxide conditions in the subsurface deep waters. This already commonly occurs in coastal waters in association with low oxygen conditions. So while iron fertilization may remain an area of interest as a potential climate mitigation strategy, it will exacerbate ocean acidification in coastal waters. 

Breeding Research

The United States Department of Agriculture and NOAA Sea Grant have supported research to develop oysters that are more resilient to ocean acidification. Through the Small Business Innovation Research program, NOAA has also funded work to identify and develop ocean acidification-resistent strains of red abalone.

 

STORIES OF ADAPTATION

New tool helps oyster growers prepare for changing ocean chemistry

NOAA Research, Laura Newcomb

Thursday, January 26, 2017

For Bill Mook, coastal acidification is one thing his oyster hatchery cannot afford to ignore. 

Mook Sea Farm depends on seawater from the Gulf of Maine pumped into a Quonset hut-style building where tiny oysters are grown in tanks. Mook sells these tiny oysters to other oyster farmers or transfers them to his oyster farm on the Damariscotta River where they grow large enough to sell to restaurants and markets on the East Coast.

The global ocean has soaked up one third of human-caused carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since the start of the Industrial Era, increasing the CO2 and acidity of seawater. Increased seawater acidity reduces available carbonate, the building blocks used by shellfish to grow their shells. Rain washing fertilizer and other nutrients into nearshore waters can also increase ocean acidity.

Back in 2013, Mook teamed up with fisherman-turned-oceanographer Joe Salisbury of the University of New Hampshire to understand how changing seawater chemistry may hamper the growth and survival of oysters in his hatchery and oyster farm.

Salisbury and his team adapted and installed in the hatchery sophisticated technology that Mook calls “the black box.” Sensors housed inside a heavy black plastic case the size of a breadbox estimate the amount of carbonate in seawater pumped into the hatchery by measuring carbon dioxide and the alkalinity, or the capacity of the water to buffer against increases in acidity. The "black box" was developed with funding from the NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program and Integrated Ocean Observing System.

Mook compares ocean acidification to a train barreling down the tracks headed for his business. By measuring the year-to-year changes in carbonate and matching that against how well his oysters do in a particular year, he says he’ll understand how oysters grow under different conditions. These tools help him learn how fast and at what time the train may arrive.

“We see a growth opportunity for this equipment,” Salisbury says. He and his team are now using “black boxes” in the waters off Puerto Rico to map where changes in acidity may contribute to coral reef erosion. Starting this year, NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow will be outfitted with black boxes to collect carbonate chemistry data during fisheries surveys along the eastern seaboard. NOAA will use this data to help improve predictions of how ocean acidification may affect valuable resources and the people, like Mook, whose livelihoods depend on them.

Editor's note: Laura Newcomb is a Sea Grant Knauss Fellow at NOAA Research's Office of Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes. 

For more information, please contact Monica Allen, director of public affairs at NOAA Research, at 301-734-1123 or monica.allen@noaa.gov


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