NOAA's Ocean Acidification Program supports research focused on economically, ecologically, and culturally important marine species. We can use what we know about survival, growth, and physiology to explore how aquaculture, wild fisheries, and food webs may change as ocean chemistry changes.
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Science Centers have state-of-the-art experimental facilities to study the response of marine life 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. At the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, coral research connects ocean conditions with reef health. 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.
NOAA national laboratories are global leaders for delivering innovative strategies for ocean observations and support tools for managing marine resources.
NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) makes critical observations and conducts groundbreaking research to advance our knowledge of the global ocean and its interactions with the earth, atmosphere, ecosystems, and climate. This includes research, observations, and technology development in support of society's response to urgent challenges with ocean acidification and ocean change. NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) conducts world-class Earth system research, with a focus on the Atlantic Ocean region, to inform: the accurate forecasting of extreme weather and ocean phenomena, the management of marine resources, and an understanding of climate change and associated impacts. AOML improves ocean and weather services including advancing our understanding of ocean and coastal acidification and its potential impacts on coral reef and other ecosystems.
Both deep sea and shallow reef-building corals have calcium carbonate skeletons. As our oceans become more acidic, carbonate ions, which are an important building blocks of calcium carbonate structures like coral skeletons, become relatively less abundant. Decreases in these building blocks make building and maintaining calcium carbonate structures harder 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 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, 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 these building blocks 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.
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.