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.


A Sentinel for Change: Secrets along the seafloor in Olympic Coast

A Sentinel for Change: Secrets along the seafloor in Olympic Coast

NOAA Ocean Acidification Program

Author: Jennifer Mintz/Thursday, August 24, 2017/Categories: ocean acidification, OA monitoring, Featured

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Whether you arrive on the Olympic Peninsula by land, sea, or air, you sense its remote, rugged and vast environment immediately. The Olympic Coast is home to productive waters which sustain thriving marine and coastal communities that have long supported the region’s tribal peoples. Ocean waters quickly deepen just offshore, boasting canyons which extend almost a mile below the surface – and have yet to be fully explored.

Scientists aboard the R/V Nautilus are exploring these wonders in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary from August 18th to September 4th, 2017 by deploying nets and unmanned vehicles to get a peek at life under the sea. The sea floor itself also holds clues to a change this region is particularly vulnerable to – ocean acidification. During spring and summer along the Olympic Coast, deep, cold waters rise from the canyons and other offshore areas bringing excess carbon dioxide produced by human activities to coastal waters.  Culturally, ecologically, and commercially important marine species, like Dungeness crab, and the food-webs they are a part of may be challenged by these waters high in carbon dioxide. The unmanned vehicles operated by the R/V Nautilus team provide a rare opportunity to sample layers of the seafloor. Their observations will give insights into the environment organisms experienced in the past and how that compares to the conditions found along the Olympic Coast today.

Olympic Coast ocean waters are projected to acidify rapidly in the future, crossing chemical thresholds known to affect the regions’ marine species. Putting these projected changes into a historical context is key to getting a sense of how this marine ecosystem will respond to changes in ocean chemistry. Were species affected with past changes? Did they persist and adapt? Looking back in time provides a foundation to better understand how this marine ecosystem and the communities that are tied to it could adapt.

The Olympic Coast is a sentinel of change for ocean acidification. In this special place, researchers are working year-round to understand the physical, chemical and biological impacts of ocean acidification. Managers are using this understanding to inform and enhance efforts to sustain and utilize resources vital to the communities that call this place home. Collaborative research and monitoring efforts are being integrated with education and outreach to define adaptive management tools that Olympic Coast communities can use to face ocean acidification head-on

You can see what secrets scientists onboard the R/V Nautilus uncover live by tuning into the Nautilus Live website!

Learn more about the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary here!


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