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.
The Ecosystem Monitoring program of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center conducts four dedicated cruises per year covering the entire extent of the Northeast United States (NEUS). NOAA OAP provides funding for the processing of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and total alkalinity (TAlk ) samples from two Ecosystem Monitoring cruises. As part of these cruises, water samples have been taken at a subset of locations and at a range of depths. The depth-discrete nature of this sampling is very important and provides data to complement the more intensive surface sampling conducted by the pCO2 sensors. These samples are used to measure DIC and TAlk and their analyses are conducted by AOML. In addition, samples for among lab comparisons have been collected. Nutrient samples are also taken and are analyzed at University of Maine.
Initially, these samples will be used for an analysis comparing the extent of ocean acidification on the NEUS compared to the late 1970's. Subsequently, these samples will be used to provide continued monitoring of the state of ocean acidification. In addition, these samples will be used to better understand the relationship between carbonate chemistry and nutrient speciation on the NEUS. While interpretation of this data is complex, a consolidated analysis is being undertaken to develop an “Ocean Acidification Indicator” for the Northeast Shelf. This metric will provide resource managers and vested stakeholders a concise interpretation of current and near-term expected conditions of acidification in the region. This project also coordinates and cooperates with a number of other regional partners in an attempt to fulfill the regional monitoring vision of National OA Plan.
The primary goal of our OA projects (NEFSC Howard Laboratory) is to understand the impacts of increased CO2 and acidity of ocean and estuarine waters on important finfish species of our region. Our tactical objectives during FY12-14 were to develop, test, and then implement an experimental system that allows for the estimation of impacts of high CO2 and associated increased acidity of marine waters on the ELS of economically and ecologically important finfish species important to the NE USA. In FY15-17 we are building upon investments in research capacity and knowledge, and our experiments are addressing higher order questions that fold very well into one of the goals of the Interagency Working Group on OA – undertaking research to examine species-specific and multi-species physiological responses including behavioral and evolutionary adaptive capacities. We have four higher level objectives for our FY15-17 studies.
First, we are testing our hypothesis that the resilience of the individuals in a population is inversely related to the variability of the CO2 in the habitat the population occupies (see also, Murray et al. 2014). This evaluation is being done by conducting comparative experiments among winter flounder from separate and distinct source populations whose resident habitats differ in characteristic levels and stability in CO2. Second, we are evaluating the role of parental exposure in the resilience / susceptibility of offspring to elevated CO2 (Sunday et al. 2014, Malvezzi et al. 2015). For these transgenerational studies, we are using three different forage species (original intent was to use Atlantic cod broodstock housed at the University of Maine but logistics and staffing decisions there precluded our use of those fish). Third, we are expanding our synthesis and meta-analysis of biological effects of CO2 on finfish. Lastly, we continue our education and outreach efforts on OA themes by mentoring students, conducting surveys, and providing tours of our OA experimental facilities.
NOAA academic partners Salisbury and Cai will organize and lead a 34-days cruise covering 12 transects of the U.S. and Canadian coast oceans from Nova Scotia in the north to the Gulf of Maine, Long Island Sound, Mid-Atlantic and Southern Bight regions, ending with a transect off of mid Florida. This cruise will serve as a synoptic characterization of the marine carbonate parameters of the coastal ocean with increased coverage in nearshore areas that have not surveyed in the previous cruises and subsurface dynamics that are not captured from using buoyed assets or ships of opportunity. The climate quality data from these cruises provide an important link to the Global Ocean Acidification Network (GOAN) effort, and serves as a start of a long-term record of dynamics and processes controlling Ocean Acidification (OA) on the coastal shelves. To this end there is an increasing focus on these cruises to perform rate measurements (e.g. NPP/NEP/NEC) for validation measurements of autonomous assets and buoyed assets, for algorithm development utilizing remotely sensed signals that are used to characterize saturation states, and to project the future state of ocean acidification in the project area.
Dedicated research cruises are used to obtain subsurface measurements and a comprehensive suite of biogeochemical observations to gain a process level understanding of OA. OAP provides funds to carry out the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast Carbon (GOMECC) research cruises every 5 years. These cruises provide a data set of unprecedented quality of physical and chemical coastal ocean parameters that is used both for improved spatial understanding of OA and also to provide a general understanding of changing patterns over time by comparison with previous cruises. The monitoring component is an essential part of the OAP, providing a long-term assessment of changes of biogeochemistry and ecology in response to increasing CO2 atmospheric levels and large-scale changes in coastal dynamics.
The climate quality data from the research cruises provide an important link to the Global Ocean Acidification Network (GOAN) effort, and contribute to a long-term record of dynamics and processes controlling OA on the coastal shelves. The data are used for validation measurements of autonomous assets, applying the data for algorithm development utilizing remotely sensed signals that are used to characterize saturation states, and to project the future state of ocean acidification in the project area.