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.
Evaluation of OA impacts to plankton and fish distributions in the Gulf of Mexico during GOMECC-4 with a focus on HAB-interactions
Why we care
Ocean change in the Gulf of Mexico, including acidification and eutrophication, can impact biodiversity and the flow of energy through ecosystems from microscopic phytoplankton to higher trophic levels like fish. These processes can impact the health of fisheries and coastal ecosystems. This project collects information to evaluate the links between ocean conditions and important species in the Gulf of Mexico.
What we are doing
During the 4th Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem and Carbon Cruise (GOMECC-4), scientists collect samples of phytoplankton, zooplankton, and ichthyoplankton to characterize fish distribution and abundance, larval fish condition and diet, microplastic abundance, and harmful algal bloom species. These collections coincide with measurements of acidification, oxygen, and eutrophication to make connections between ocean chemistry and biology.
Benefits of our work
This project will help characterize how changes in ocean conditions interact with biological processes like harmful algal bloom formation and ecosystem productivity that are important to local fisheries and stakeholders.
Assessing ecosystem responses of Gulf of Mexico coastal communities to ocean acidification using environmental DNA
Why we care
Recent efforts to monitor ocean acidification in the Gulf of Mexico via the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Carbon Cycle (GOMECC) cruises have revealed spatial differences in ocean acidification. While we know that ocean acidification negatively impacts many species and exacerbates the effects of oxygen limitation and harmful algal blooms, there is little work to monitor or predict the effects of ocean acidification on biodiversity. This project employs cutting-edge technology using environmental DNA to assess biodiversity in different conditions in the Gulf of Mexico region.
What we are doing
Every organism sheds DNA. This project analyzes environmental DNA (eDNA), which is free-floating or microscopic DNA found in seawater, collected during the 4th GOMECC cruise, to identify biodiversity of bacteria, plankton, and fish in the Gulf of Mexico. eDNA will be compared to ocean properties to draw conclusions about drivers of biodiversity.
Benefits of our work
Links between eDNA, ocean acidification, and other ocean properties will provide a deeper understanding of environmental drivers of biodiversity. These relationships can inform predictions of biodiversity patterns and guide the management of key habitats in the Gulf of Mexico, and help us adapt to changing ocean conditions.
Ocean Acidification on a Crossroad: Enhanced Respiration, Upwelling, Increasing Atmospheric CO2, and their interactions in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Why we care
In the coastal ocean, local drivers such as nutrient input and physical oceanographic changes impact the magnitude of short-term variations and long-term trends in ocean acidification. The Gulf of Mexico’s coral reefs and banks are ecologically sensitive to changing ocean chemistry. Decadal acidification has been observed in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico, linked more strongly to biological production of carbon dioxide than uptake of human-emitted carbon dioxide. Whether the observed acidification in this region represents a short-term phenomenon or a long-term trend is unknown. This project maintains critical ocean acidification monitoring in a region with impacted habitats and species.
What we are doing
This project will test the hypothesis that enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide, nutrient input, and upwelling will cause the continental shelf-slope region in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico to acidify faster than other tropical and subtropical seas. The research team will incorporate observations from new large-scale surveys into oceanographic and statistical models that predict variation in ocean acidification over space and time.
Benefits of our work
The outcomes of this project will meet the long-term goal of optimizing ocean acidification monitoring in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico and will document methodology that can be used in similar efforts in the future. This project will examine an area in the poorly understood Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem, produce the first ever high-resolution dataset in surface and subsurface waters, and direct the future deployment of in-situ monitoring devices in this ecologically and economically important region.
Among the NOAA designated Large Marine Ecosystems, the Gulf
of Mexico (GOM) remains poorly understood in terms of its current OA conditions, despite its
ecological and economic significance. In the northwestern GOM (nwGOM), decadal
acidification has been observed in the shelf-slope region, with metabolic production of CO2
contributing to a larger fraction of CO2 accumulation than uptake of anthropogenic CO2, and the
observed rate of acidification is significantly greater than that in other tropical and subtropical
areas. Unfortunately, whether the observed OA in this region represents a short-term
phenomenon or a long-term trend is unknown.
It is hypothesized that increasing atmospheric CO2, increasing terrestrial nutrient export
due to an enhanced hydrological cycle, and enhanced upwelling due to climate change will cause
the continental shelf-slope region in the nwGOM to acidify faster than other tropical and
subtropical seas. In order to test this hypothesis wave gliders, in -stiu sensor along withe underway measurements from research vessels will measure carbonated chemistry in in surface and shallow waters. Modeling will be used tp integrate the chemical signals into the models to hindcast/predict spatia; and temporal variation of the OA signal for the the optimization of monitoring design and implementation.
Humans have had a significant influence on estuaries through land use change and increased use of fertilizers, causing proliferation of algal blooms, hypoxia, and presence of harmful microbes. Now, acidification due to myriad processes has been identified as a potential threat to many estuaries. In Texas estuaries for example, short-term acidification as a result of episodic hypoxia is a well-documented phenomenon. Unfortunately, a longer-term trend toward chronic acidification (decreasing alkalinity, pH) has now been observed. The alkalinity decrease is likely caused by a reduction in riverine alkalinity export due to precipitation declines under drought conditions and freshwater diversions for human consumption.
Based on our existing long-term data, we hypothesize that hydrology acts as a switch, where increased river flows cause hypoxia and short-term acidification due to increased loads of organic matter, whereas prolonged low flows cause long-term acidification due to reduced loads of riverine alkalinity and calcification. In urbanized, wastewater-influenced systems, we hypothesize that reduced flows out of the watershed may lead to long-term acidification and chronic hypoxia due to reduced loads of riverine alkalinity and presence of low pH, high nutrient/organic matter wastewater.
To test our hypotheses, field and modeling studies are proposed to examine the relationships between estuarine acidification and other stressors (i.e., reduced freshwater inflow, hypoxia, and nutrient loading). Analysis of changes in ecosystem health and model calibration will be conducted based on long-term data. Mechanistic linkages between acidification, eutrophication and flow will be quantified through a field campaign. Chemical markers of organic matter sources fueling hypoxia will be determined. Future ecological states of the estuaries will be predicted using ecosystem models that account for projected changes in aforementioned parameters and ocean conditions based on IPCC estimates. The combination of prediction and consequence will be useful to multiple stakeholder groups.