Ocean acidification is spreading rapidly in the western Arctic Ocean in both area and depth, potentially affecting shellfish, other marine species in the food web, and communities that depend on these resources, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change by NOAA, Chinese marine scientists and other partners.
For the first time, NOAA and partner scientists have connected the concentration of human-caused carbon dioxide in waters off the U.S. Pacific coast to the dissolving of shells of microscopic marine sea snails called pteropods.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to tease out the percentage of human-caused carbon dioxide from natural carbon dioxide along a large portion of the West Coast and link it directly to pteropod shell dissolution,” said Richard Feely, a NOAA senior scientist who led the research appearing in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. “Our research shows that humans are increasing the acidification of U.S. West Coast coastal waters, making it more difficult for marine species to build strong shells.”
In the summer of 2013 NOAA conducted an in-depth ocean acidification investigation along the U.S. West Coast! Sailing from Seattle, WA to Moss Landing, CA, chemists and biologists on board NOAA Ship Fairweather sampled and analyzed water, alga and plankton in an effort to better understand how the marine ecosystem is responding to corrosive effects caused by changing ocean chemistry.
Acidification, which is driven by increases in human-caused fossil fuel burning, is particularly threatening West Coast waters given the region’s unique hydrology and large biological communities. Data from this cruise may help America's fishing industry and state and local officials can plan, prepare and protect its commercially-valuable ecosystems.