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.
The California Current System (CCS) is one of the most biologically productive regions of the world ocean, but seasonal upwelling of low oxygen and low-pH waters makes it particularly vulnerable to even small additional reductions in O2 and/or pH, which have both been observed in recent decades. Three prominent coastal phenomena have been implicated in precisely these changes: 1) large scale acidification and deoxygenation of the ocean associated with climate warming, 2) natural climate variability, and 3) anthropogenic pollution of coastal waters, especially from nutrient discharge and deposition. The relative importance of these drivers has not been systematically evaluated, and yet is critical information in any cost-effective strategy to manage coastal resources at local scales. Disentangling the magnitude and interaction of these different ecosystem stresses requites an integrated systems modeling approach that is carefully validated against available datasets.
The goals of this project are three-fold: 1) develop an ocean hypoxia and acidifcation (OHA) model of the CCS (Baja California to British Columbia), comprising the circulation, biogeochemical cycles, and lower-trophic ecosystem of the CCS, with regional downscaling in the Southern California Bight, Central Coast, and the Oregon Coast; 2) use the model to understand the relative contributions of natural climate variability, anthropogenically induced climate change, and anthropogenic inputs on the status and trends of OHA in the CCS; and 3) transmit these findings to coastal zone mangers and help them explore the implications for marine resource management and pollution control.
We will examine the effects of OA conditions (elevated pCO2) on the adaptive response of a potentially vulnerable native marine mollusc species with ecological, economic and social importance in the Pacific Northwest: geoduck clams (Panopea generosa). Geoduck clam larvae will be exposed to normal and elevated pCO2 and surviving larvae will be assessed using genomic sequencing to determine changes in allele frequencies at single nucleotide polymorphisms throughout the genome, and changes in the frequency of methylation states (epialleles) throughout the epigenome. Existing ecosystem models of OA consider a species' response to increased pCO2 as a fixed attribute; however, interpretations of the effects of OA at the population level may shift substantially if species adapt to the new environment. Furthermore, we will gain a better understanding of how specific genetic and epigenetic variations influence phenotype and the ability of an organism to respond, giving us new insights into fundamental aspects of species adaptation to environmental change.