Biological Response

NOAA's Ocean Acidification Program supports research that focuses on economically and ecologically important marine species. Research of survival, growth, and physiology of marine organisms can be used to explore how aquaculture, wild fisheries, and food webs may change as ocean chemistry changes.


A number of NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Science Centers have state-of-the-art experimental facilities to study the response of marine organisms to the chemistry conditions expected with ocean acidification.

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center has facilities at its Sandy Hook, NJ and Milford, CT laboratories; the Alaska Fisheries Science Centers at its Newport, OR and Kodiak, AK laboratories; and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center at its Mukilteo and Manchester, WA laboratories. All facilities can tightly control carbon dioxide and temperature. The Northwest Fisheries Science Center can also control oxygen, and can create variable treatment conditions for carbon dioxide, temperature, and oxygen. These facilities include equipment for seawater carbon chemistry analysis, and all use standard operating procedures for analyzing carbonate chemistry to identify the treatment conditions used in experiments.



Both deep sea and shallow reef-building corals have calcium carbonate skeletons.  As our oceans become more acidic, carbonate ions, which are an important part of calcium carbonate structures, such as these coral skeletons, become relatively less abundant. Decreases in seawater carbonate ion concentration can make building and maintaining calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying marine organisms such as coral.



Increased levels of carbon dioxide in our ocean can have a wide variety of impacts on fish, including altering behavior, otolith (a fish's ear bone) formation, and young fish's growth. Find out more about what scientists are learning about ocean acidification impacts on fish like rockfish, scup, summer flounder, and walleye pollock.


Shellfish, such as oyster, clams, crabs and scallop, provide food for marine life and for people, too. Shellfish make their shells or carapaces from calcium carbonate, which contains carbonate ion as a building block. The decreases in seawater carbonate ion concentration expected with ocean acidification can make building and maintaining calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying marine organisms like shellfish. This may impact their survival, growth, and physiology, and, thus, the food webs and economies that depend on them.


Plankton are tiny plants and animals that many marine organisms, ranging from salmon to whales, rely on for nutrition. Some plankton have calcium carbonate structures, which are built from carbonate ions. Carbonate ions become relatively less abundant as the oceans become more acidic. Decreases in seawater carbonate ions can make building and maintaining shells and other calcium carbonate structures difficult for calcifying marine organisms such as plankton. Changes to the survival, growth, and physiology of plankton can have impacts throughout the food web.


Low pH in Coastal Waters of the Gulf of Maine: A Data Synthesis-Driven Investigation of Probable Sources, Patterns and Processes Involved

David W. Townsend, University of Maine

Coastal Maine supports valuable lobster, clam, oyster and other shellfish industries that comprise >90% of Maine’s record $616M landed value last year. Earlier monitoring efforts in Maine and New Hampshire have documented periods of unusually acidic conditions in subsurface waters of Maine’s estuaries, which may be driven by episodic influxes of waters from the Gulf’s nutrient-rich, highly productive coastal current system. Sources of acidity to the estuaries also include the atmosphere, freshwater fluxes, and local eutrophication processes, all modulated by variability imparted by a number of processes.This project is a data synthesis effort to look at long-term trends in water quality data to identify the key drivers of acidification in this area. Extensive data sets dating back to the 1980s (including carbonate system, hydrography, oxygen, nutrients, and other environmental variables) will be assembled, subjected to QA/QC, and analyzed to assess acidification events in the context of landward, seaward and direct atmospheric sources, as may be related to processes operating on tidal to decadal timescales. Such analyses are requisite for any future vulnerability assessments of fishery-dependent communities in Maine and New Hampshire to the effects of coastal acidification.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Vulnerability and Adaptation to Ocean Acidification Among Pacific Northwest Mussel and Oyster Stakeholders

David J. Wrathall and George Waldbusser, Oregon State University

Ocean acidification (OA) is already harming shellfish species in the Pacific Northwest, a global hotspot of OA. While OA poses a threat to regional communities, economies, and cultures that rely on shellfish, identified gaps remain in adaptive capacity and vulnerability of several stakeholders. This project will address these gaps by extending long-standing collaborative OA vulnerability research with shellfish growers to include other shellfish users (e.g. port towns, Native American tribes and shellfish sector employees). The project includes five objectives: 1) Map variations in shellfisheries’ exposure to OA and identify those that are most sensitive, 2) quantify production losses from OA and costs of investment in adaptation 3) Identify potential pathways for adaptation, 4) identify key technological, institutional, legislative, financial and cultural barriers to OA adaptation, 5) evaluate the cost of potential adaptation strategies, and develop behavioral models to predict the likelihood of users adopting specific adaptation strategies. The research is designed to identify key vulnerabilities, determine the cost of OA to Pacific Northwest shellfish stakeholders, and to model adaptation pathways for maximizing resilience to OA. The adaptation framework developed here will be replicable in other shellfisheries yet to experience OA impacts.


Friday, December 22, 2017

The Olympic Coast as a Sentinel: An Integrated Social-Ecological Regional Vulnerability Assessment to Ocean Acidification

Jan Newton, University of Washington

The Olympic Coast, located in the Pacific Northwest U.S., stands as a region already experiencing effects of ocean acidification (OA). This poses risks to marine resources important to the public, especially local Native American tribes who are rooted in this place and depend on marine treaty-protected resources. This project brings together original social science research, synthesis of existing chemical and biological data from open ocean to intertidal areas, and model projections, to assess current and projected Olympic Coast vulnerabilities associated with OA. This critical research aims to increase the tribes’ ability to prepare for and respond to OA through respective community-driven strategies. By constructing a comprehensive, place-based approach to assess OA vulnerability, decision-makers in the Pacific Northwest will be better able to anticipate, evaluate and manage societal risks and impacts of OA. This collaborative project is developed in partnership with tribal co-investigators and regional resource managers from start to finish and is rooted in a focus on local priorities for social, cultural, and ecological health and adaptive capacity.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Tracking Ocean Alkalinity using New Carbon Measurement Technologies (TAACT)

Joe Salisbury

This project will expand the quantity and quality of ocean acidification (OA) monitoring across Northeastern U.S. coastal waters. The new OA data and incorporation of the world’s first commercial total alkalinity (TA) sensor into our regional observing system (NERACOOS) are designed to supply needed baseline information in support of a healthy and sustainable shellfish industry, and to aid in assessments and projections for wild fisheries. In working with partners to develop this proposal, clear concerns were brought forward regarding the potential impacts of increasing ocean acidity that extend from nearshore hatcheries and aquaculture to broader Gulf of Maine finfish and shellfish industries and their management. Stakeholder input and needs shaped the project scope such that both nearshore and offshore users will be served by TA sensor deployments on partner platforms, including time series data collection at an oyster aquaculture site, on the NOAA Ship of Opportunity AX-2 line, and on federal and State of Maine regional fish trawl surveys. In all, five different deployment platforms will be used to enhance ocean acidification monitoring within the Northeast Coastal Acidification Network (NE-CAN) with significant improvement in temporal and spatial coverage.

 Adding the all-new TA measurement capability to the regional observation network will provide more accurate, certain, and reliable OA monitoring, and an important project objective is to demonstrate and relay this information to regional partners. Data products to be developed from the multi-year measurements include nearshore and offshore baseline OA seasonal time series as well as threshold indices tied to acidification impacts on larval production at the Mook Sea Farm oyster hatchery. An outreach and technical supervision component will include the transfer of carbonate system observing technologies to our partners and to the broader fishing industry, resource management, and science communities. NERACOOS will provide data management and communication (DMAC) services and work towards implementing these technological advances into the IOOS network.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Categories: Projects

Turning the headlights on 'high': Improving an ocean acidification observation system in support of Pacific coast shellfish growers

Jan Newton, University of Washington

Working across four IOOS Regional Associations in partnership with the shellfish industry and other groups affected by ocean acidification (OA), our proposal is divided into four tasks that continue the foundational aspects established to date and expand both technical capacity and the development of new technology with respect to OA observing needs for shellfish growers and other related impacted and potentially vulnerable U.S. industries, governments (tribal, state, local) and other stakeholders. Our proposed work includes development of observing technology, expert oversight intelligence, data dissemination, and outreach and will be executed by a team that includes a sensor technology industry and academic and government scientists. We will: 1) Develop new lower cost and higher accuracy sensor technology for OA monitoring and expand them to new sites; 2) Utilize regional partnerships of users and local experts to implement and provide Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) tests of the new OA sensors; 3) Establish data handling and dissemination mechanisms that provide both user-friendly and standards-based web service access that are exportable from the Pacific Coast module to the entirety of U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS); and 4) Provide education and outreach services to stakeholders concerned about and potentially impacted by OA.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Categories: Projects