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.



Species exposure experiments that measure the response of organisms reared in seawater with manipulated carbonate chemistry are an important way to learn about the potential effects of ocean acidification (OA). Experimental systems that closely mimic the natural environment (e.g. with multiple stressors) can lead to studies with greater ecological relevance. Using a combination of NWFSC and OAP funds, the NWFSC built a facility for conducting species exposure experiments at the Montlake Lab, and has started a new facility at the Mukilteo Field station. The facilities include both rearing aquaria and a lab for carbon chemistry analysis (DIC, alkalinity, spectrophotometric pH). The NWFSC experimental systems are considered “shared-use” facilities, in that the systems are available for NWFSC research teams and outside collaborators as capacity allows. In the past, we have worked on collaborative projects with PMEL, University of Washington, Oregon State University, Suquamish Tribe, Evergreen State University, Cal Poly and Western Washington University. These collaborators often provide external funding for experiments, greatly increasing the research that can be conducted.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Categories: Projects

OA Monitoring in the US Pacific Coastal Waters

Burke Hales, Oregon State University

The goal of this component of the project is to continue the mooring and ship-based monitoring of the Ocean Acidification-impacted carbonate chemistry of US Pacific coastal waters. This objective will be accomplished by: 1) continued operation of the Oregon Ocean Acidification Mooring Program, including deployment and maintenance of the surface moorings at the established Ocean Acidification (OA) node at NH10 with surface MAPCO2 systems, nearbottom moorings with SAMI-CO2 and SAMI-pH systems at the NH10 site and the shelfbreak in the early stages of the project, followed by a relocation (following validation exercises, see #3) of these assets to a more biologically productive site to the south; 2) measurement support of the West Coast Ocean Acidification Cruise in 2016; and 3) a validation program for moored measurements off the Oregon Coast. The final component will include a parallel deployment of the NOAA-OAP moored assets at NH-10 for 6-12 months following establishment of the OOI node there to ensure consistency between the OAP and OOI platforms, as well as continued opportunistic sample collection for archiving and analyses in Hales; lab at OSU.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Categories: Projects

Sustaining OA Measurements on the Washington Coast NANOOS NEMO Moorings

Jan Newton, NANOOS

Working with the Carbon Group at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, we propose to continue the now 4-year time series of real-time, high-frequency measurements of critical core OA parameters on the northern Washington shelf, including regular collection of validation samples. Specifically APL-UW will continue to maintain a heavily-instrumented surface mooring (Cha’ba) providing core OA and support parameters 13 miles WNW of La Push, WA, within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, just shoreward and south of the Juan de Fuca Eddy---a known harmful algae bloom (HAB) source (Trainer et al., 2009; Hickey et al., 2013). Cha’ba currently houses a MAPCO2 system and many auxiliary sensors including two pH sensors, several CTDs, two oxygen sensors, an ADCP, and a fluorometer/turbidity sensor. Because of budget limitations, lack of ship time, and possessing only one surface mooring, we are only able to deploy the Cha’ba system for 6-8 mo/yr, typically from March-April through September-October. A LOI is attached to this workplan that would allow for continuous 12 mo/yr deployments in order to bring this to the full requirements of NOAA OAP. Cha’ba’s location, in an upwelling zone and near the source waters to Puget Sound via the Strait of Juan de Fuca, offers key insights. While Cha'ba records surface air and seawater conditions with some depth resolution, NANOOS also supports a subsurface profiling mooring 400m away from Cha''ba, measuring full water-column properties below 20m, soon to be instrumented (US IOOS funding) with a real-time HAB detection system, pH sensor and profiling CTD offering broader context and insights on biological responses. Synergies between OA and HAB toxicity have been suggested (Sun et al., 2011). Continuation of the MAPCO2 effort on Cha''ba with these ancillary data will facilitate analysis to further develop our understanding of shelf processes important to OA variability, prediction, and biological responses.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Categories: Projects

Moored Observations of Ocean Carbon System Variables in the Southern California Current Ecosystem

UWE Send, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

This project will deploy two interdisciplinary moorings (CCE1 and CCE2) in the southern California Current System, a key coastal upwelling ecosystem along the west coast of North America. The study region forms the dominant spawning habitat for most of the biomass of small pelagic fishes in the entire California Current System, is important for wild harvest of diverse marine invertebrates and fishes, plays a significant role in the ocean carbon budget for the west coast, and is in close proximity to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The offshore CCE1 mooring is located in the core flow of the California Current itself, and represents a key source of horizontal transport of nutrients, dissolved gases, and organisms from higher latitudes. It also represents the offshore atmosphere-ocean gas exchange that occurs over a large area and influences the carbon budget of this Eastern Boundary Current. The CCE2 mooring is located near Pt. Conception, one of the major upwelling centers off the west coast. This is a site of strong, episodic upwelling events that lead to marked increases in pCO2, declines in pH and dissolved oxygen, and intrusion of waters unfavorable to precipitation of calcium carbonate by some shell-bearing marine organisms. The proposed work will regularly deploy and service taut line, bottom-anchored moorings at the two mooring sites, with sensors designed to measure all core carbonate system variables specified by the PMEL OA Monitoring Network. The data will be validated with shipboard measurements and rigorous QC procedures, and made freely available via Iridium satellite telemetry. Complementary measurements made by partners in this region include Spray glider-based assessments of calcium carbonate saturation state, CalCOFI shipboard hydrographic and plankton food web measurements, process studies conducted by the CCE-LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) site, and a new experimental Ocean Acidification facility.

PI: Uwe Send

Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Categories: Projects