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

Ocean Acidification: Building a Path Toward Adaptation in the Arctic

NOAA Ocean Acidification Program

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ocean Acidification: Building a Path Toward Adaptation in the Arctic

Scientists, economists, and stakeholders from all eight Arctic countries forge a path forward in adapting to ocean acidification in the Arctic

Arctic waters are rapidly changing. In the coming decades, these high-latitude waters will undergo significant shifts that could affect fish, shellfish, marine mammals, along with the livelihoods and well-being of communities dependent on these resources.

Ocean acidification is one of the big changes Arctic communities face. About one third of the rampant carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is absorbed, like a sponge, by the ocean which increases the acidity of ocean waters. In the cold waters of the Arctic, where acidification is happening more quickly than in other parts of the globe, marine life are especially susceptible. 

Arctic indigenous and subsistence fishing communities are particularly vulnerable to changes in marine resource availability as there are often limited cultural or nutritional substitutes. To reduce the vulnerability of indigenous people, scientists, economists, and stakeholders from all eight Arctic countries are working to build a path forward to adapt to ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is rapidly progressing in the Arctic

In 2013, the Arctic Monitoring Assessment Programme (AMAP) ocean acidification expert group comprehensively evaluated the status and possible consequences of ocean acidification in the Arctic. This led to the first global alert and confirmation that Arctic waters are experiencing widespread and rapid acidification, highlighting that the livelihoods of Arctic communities may be affected.

NOAA researchers have found that waters of northern Alaska, including the Chukchi and Beaufort seas could experience chemical changes by 2030 that threaten the ability of animals to build and maintain skeletons and shells. Just south, in the Bering Sea, the same threshold may be reached by 2044. Acidification affects the development of young Tanner crabs in laboratory experiments, an economically important species in Alaska.  If these same effects are seen in their natural habitat, the catches and profits of Tanner crabs can be expected to be half of what they are today within 20 years.

Risk assessments for Alaskan fisheries, which combine our understanding of changing ocean chemistry with biological and economic impacts, show that the regions in southeast and southwest Alaska that are highly reliant on fishery harvests likely face the highest risk from acidification.

Arctic communities rely on marine resources

Arctic communities rely heavily on marine resources for food, spiritual and cultural heritage and livelihoods.  The importance of incorporating cultural value into ongoing and future bio-economic models is of paramount concern for Katya Wassillie from the Eskimo Walrus Commission.

“The overall wellbeing of indigenous communities depends on their ability to continue subsistence lifestyles, says Wassillie. “The ability to harvest marine resources is a central component to their culture.”

Jeremy Mathis, Director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program, has worked on ocean acidification in Alaska for the past decade and knows that adaptation will mean something different to each Arctic community.

“Some sectors of Alaska’s marine economy might be explicitly tied to one fishery,” Mathis explained. “Adaptation to acidification will require forward-thinking and strong partnerships across the Arctic nations.”

A coalition of economists, scientists, and stakeholders forging a path together

In October 2016 NOAA led a Pathways to Adaptation workshop where scientists, economists, and marine resource managers worked together to develop strategies for Arctic populations to adapt to the impacts of ocean acidification.  Workshop participant, Lisa Suatoni of the National Resources Defense Council explained, “We know water chemistry is rapidly changing the Arctic. The Pathways to Adaptation workshop joined physical and social scientists together with fishing industry and indigenous community members to begin to identify real steps to address societal vulnerabilities to acidification.”

To bolster adaptation efforts, regional networks can serve as a channel to transfer information to indigenous communities so they have the information to build bottom-up adaptation planning. With support from the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network, an arctic regional network could serve as a regional hub and promote collaboration and cooperation among scientists, resources users, and stakeholders across international borders.

Within the US, the 2016 launch of the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network is engaging and coordinating with Alaskan communities. The network will connect scientists and stakeholder communities, including native tribes, to identify regional priorities, develop monitoring tools and share data and information. One initiative includes outfitting tribal-managed hatcheries with ocean chemistry monitoring systems to allow tribes to understand and adapt to changing conditions. By developing new ideas and partnerships this region of the Arctic will be better equipped to adapt.

Adaptation in the Arctic

The expansive Arctic is facing many environmental changes and challenges. “Ocean acidification is part of the matrix of the rapidly changing Arctic environment and, for some organisms, may be the straw that breaks the camel's back” said Professor Richard Bellerby, Director of the SKLEC-NIVA Centre for Coastal and Marine Research and co-lead of the AMAP Ocean Acidification working group.

Arctic communities are among the first to experience changes due to warming and acidification, and are the sentinels in adapting to changing conditions. Strategies for dealing with, and adapting to acidification in the Arctic can be applied to other regions of the world as effects take hold in lower latitudes.

Adaptation is a process, not an outcome. Ocean acidification in the Arctic is a challenge that is better tackled with diverse expertise across all Arctic nations.  As resources managers, scientists, and Arctic communities continue to gather information, communicate, and work with one another, the pathway to adaptation will be strengthened. 

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