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.
This OAP project represents the first contribution of OAP to sustained coastal Alaska OA monitoring through three years (2015-2017) of maintenance of two previously established OA mooring sites located in critical fishing areas. In FY2015, It also supported a 19 day OA survey cruise along the continental shelf of the Gulf of Alaska in summer of 2015, designed to fill observing gaps that have made it difficult to quantify the extent of OA events. This support has been critical for continuing OA research in Alaska, as the initial infrastructure funding was not sufficient or intended for long-term operation.
These OAP-sponsored monitoring and observing activities support a number of cross-cutting research efforts. Firstly, the data itself will provide new insights into the seasonal progression of OA events caused by the progressive accumulation of anthropogenic CO2 into the region's coastal seas. The mooring and cruise data can also be used as an early warning system for stakeholders around the state, as well as to provide information for other types of OA research. Other projects within the OAP Alaska Enterprise focus on laboratory based evaluation of the impact of OA on commercially and ecologically important Alaskan species, especially during the vulnerable larval and juvenile life stages. This environmental monitoring informs those studies by describing the intensity, duration, and extent of OA events and providing a baseline for projecting future conditions. Finally, this observational data is used to validate new OA models that are currently being developed for the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, and are applied in bio-economic models of crab and pollock abundance forecasts (e.g., Punt et al., 2014; Mathis et al., 2014).