Societal impacts and adaptation strategies

Ocean acidification is a threat to food security, economies, and culture because of its potential impacts on marine ecosystem services. Information on how ocean acidification will impact ecosystems and the services they provide can help guide how we adapt to and mitigate forecasted changes.


The OAP funds modeling studies to advance our understanding of the impacts of ocean acidification on coastal ecosystems and fisheries.

Scientists can use a wide variety of models to project the potential progression of acidification in different regions, the impacts that changes in chemistry may have on marine life, and how these changes could affect a variety of ecosystem services including fisheries, aquaculture, and protection of coasts by coral reefs. For example, projections of ocean acidification can be incorporated into food-web models to better understand how changing ocean chemistry could affect harvested species, protected species, and the structure of the food web itself. Economic-forecast models can be used to analyze the economic impacts of potential changes in fisheries harvest caused by ocean acidification.

Figure from: Harvey et al. 2010

Ecosystem Modeling

Experiments on species response suggest that ocean acidification will directly affect a wide variety of organisms from calcifying shellfish and coral to fish and phytoplankton. Ecosystem models can capture the complex effects of ocean acidification on entire ecosystems.

How marine organisms respond to ocean acidification will be influenced by their reaction to chemistry change and their interactions with others species, such as their predators and prey. Scientists use ecosystem models to understand how ocean chemistry may affect entire ecosystems because they account for the complex interactions between organisms. Output from such modeling exercises can inform management of fisheries, protected species, and other important natural resources. Because ecosystem feedbacks are complex, understanding the uncertainty associated with these models is critical to effective management.

Economic Projections

Projections of the economic impacts of ocean acidification can be created by combining economic models with findings from laboratory experiments and ecological models.

For example, these links can be made for port communities or specific fisheries through modeling changes in fish harvest. Researchers at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center have developed bio-economic forecasts for the economically and culturally important species red king crab. Researchers at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center are developing projections of how the economies of regional port communities might be altered by potential changes in West Coast fisheries caused by ocean acidification.


How can we adapt to our changing ocean? 

The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) is working to build knowledge about how to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification (OA) and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs.







Turning current observations into forecasts is the key mechanism by which adaptation plans are created.

Forecasting provides insight into a vision of the future by using models that visualize how quickly and where ocean chemistry will be changing in tandem with an understanding of how sensitive marine resources and communities are to these changes.  By making predictions about the future, we can better adapt and prepare for ocean acidification. Coastal forecasts for ocean acidification are currently being developed for the West Coast, Chesapeake Bay, the East Coast, Caribbean and the western Gulf of Mexico. Ocean acidification hotspots are areas that are particularly vulnerable, either from a biological, economic, or cultural perspective. Identification of these hot spots in coastal waters is a priority for the Coastal Acidification Networks (CANs), fostered by the Ocean Acidification Program around the country. These networks bring together scientists, decision makers, fishermen and other stakeholders to identify and answer the most important questions about acidification and its effects in the region.


NOAA scientists have played an important role in development of the J-SCOPE forecast system, used to create seasonal forecasts for the North Pacific region. These forecasts will allow fisheries managers to predict seasonal outlooks for management decisions.


Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally


Management strategies use information provided by research and tools that can be used to make sound decisions to effectively conserve marine resources. Baseline research about organism and community sensitivity to ocean acidification is incorporated into these strategies, in an effort to sustain these resources for the future.

Before management plans can be created it is necessary to have baseline research about the effects of ocean acidification on marine resources, such as Pacific oysters, Dungeness crabs and rockfish. The OAP funds NOAA Fisheries Science Centers to expose various life stages of valuable species to present and future acidification conditions. The biological response research is then incorporated into models that can be used to create tools for managers to use so that they can test different scenarios on species’ populations and habitats.  Modeling efforts led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are now being used to produce one of these tools for Atlantic sea scallop fisheries. The dashboard will allow managers to test the impacts of different management actions on scallop populations.  In the Pacific Northwest, NOAA, the University of Washington, and shellfish industry scientists have formed a strong partnership to adapt to ocean acidification impacts that have already affected the shellfish industry. Together these researchers determined that acidification was threatening oyster production and offered an approach to address it. They installed equipment to monitor carbon chemistry at shellfish hatcheries and worked with hatchery managers to develop methods that protect developing oyster larvae from exposure to low pH waters.   Early warning tools are now being used to forecast seasonal acidification conditions to enable shellfish growers to adapt their practices.




Ocean acidification is a global challenge, and the most effective adaptation strategies are holistic, incorporating the knowledge and experiences of many sectors. As an answer to the difficulty of bridging geographic and professional divides, together with the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification, NOAA helped launch the Ocean Acidification Information Exchange, an online community and discussion forum.

The OA Information Exchange is designed to make it easy  to connect and find information, with tools to post updates, share documents, media, links, and events with fellow members. The site welcomes scientists, educators, students, policy makers, members of industry, and concerned citizens to help fulfill the mission of building a well-informed community ready to respond and adapt to ocean and coastal acidification. If you would like to join the conversation, please request an account at

EXPLORE THE IOOS Pacific Region Ocean Acidification
Data portal

This portal provides a real-time data stream of ocean acidification data that can be used by shellfish growers, regional managers, stakeholders and the public. The portal can be used to make resource decisions and build adaptation strategies.


NOAA Ocean Acidification Program Sets Course for Next Three Years

NOAA Ocean Acidification Program

Author: Anonym/Thursday, March 31, 2016/Categories: ocean acidification

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NOAA ship Fairweather sets course for an ocean acidification research mission along the US West Coast.

These are exciting times for the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) – the Program is growing and maturing! The OAP is the only federal program dedicated to ocean acidification, and was founded just five years ago.  It is committed to promoting integration across NOAA to achieve an interdisciplinary approach and fulfill requirements outlined by the FOARAM Act  (Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act) and the  Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification Strategic Plan for Federal Research and Monitoring Requirements of Ocean Acidification. At the start of FY15, the OAP moved into its second, three-year funding cycle.  With this transition, it adopted a new way to make decisions about funding allocations, dividing its portfolio into four investment types:

Sustained Investments – Sustained investments in ocean acidification research serve as the Program’s foundation for a diverse suite of research and development initiatives, and provide continuity and opportunities for growth for those NOAA and academic-partner research programs funded by the OAP previously. These investments focus on the four major areas of OA work for which NOAA is responsible: long-term monitoring, impacts research on or related to managed species, modeling biogeochemical change and associated ecosystem impacts, and data management and archiving. Over one-third of this funding goes to academic partners who collaborate with the OAP to meet its and NOAA’s core missions.

Competitive Awards – The OAP currently invests in competitive awards, and plans to allocate at least 25% of any funding increase to the Program to multi-year, peer-reviewed, competitively awarded grants. These grants will be awarded to successful proposals responsive to targeted Federal Funding Opportunities developed by the OAP or in partnership with funding partners. Investigators from NOAA laboratories and science centers as well as academic institutions, industry, and NGOs will be eligible to compete for funding, and external participants may be encouraged to partner with NOAA PIs and, as appropriate, make substantial use of OAP sustained investments.  Topic areas for the Federal Funding Opportunities will be guided by the NOAA OA Research Plan, the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification Strategic Research Plan, and the National Ocean Policy, as well as input from the OAP’s Executive Oversight Board, NOAA OA Working Group, the Interagency Working Group on OA, and feedback from current NOAA-funded principal investigators. New FY 15 – 17 project awards from the most recent competitive RFP, co-funded by NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the OA Program, will be announced soon.

NOAA ship Fairweather makes its way through Ballard Locks in Seattle, WA as it leaves port for an ocean acidification research cruise that takes place every few years to better understand ocean conditions and biological responses in this region.

Capacity Building – The OAP will foster international, national, regional, state, and local engagement on ocean acidification, with project selection on an annual basis. Recipients are not limited to NOAA entities.

Venture Funding – A portion of OAP resources will be reserved each year to address urgent, near-term, critical issues; fund pilot studies; invest in short-lived, high-return opportunities; and explore new R&D directions.  

For more information about upcoming, open Requests for Proposals or how to apply for capacity building or venture funding, please see  our "Opportunities" page

As part of the application process to renew sustained investments, OAP-funded scientists were strongly encouraged to work together across organizational boundaries in NOAA to create vision statements focused on research and monitoring relevant to management at ecosystem and regional levels. For example, the vision statement from Alaska discusses how ocean carbon chemistry data recently collected in Alaska’s marine waters using novel observing technologies will inform the design of new experiments on the sensitivity of Alaska’s commercial crab species to predicted ocean carbon chemistry conditions. The West Coast vision statement outlines an integrated research program with the goal of understanding how physical, chemical, biological, and ecological processes interact in the California Current System and Salish Sea, so that managers can make informed choices of how to account for OA effects in their decision-making. Biological research in this region will focus on early life stages of Dungeness crabs; observations, such as the synoptic west coast cruise, will document the progression of OA and inform how upwelling contributes to it; and modeling exercises will provide forecasts of OA events for the Pacific Northwest. OA research on US coral reefs will continue state-of-the-art monitoring of carbon chemistry in reefs systems and novel measures of ecosystem response to changing chemistry, including measurement of the reef accretion, dissolution, and biodiversity.   

In addition, as a result of an enacted funding increase for OAP in FY 15, new investments complimenting the core sustained investments were also vetted and chosen. They include:

  • testing new technologies to monitor carbon chemistry below the ocean surface;
  • increasing chemistry monitoring in coral reefs, off the Washington and Alaskan coasts, and in Chesapeake Bay;
  • expanding biological impacts research to new species (sea scallops) and new analytical approaches (molecular techniques like genomics and metabolomics);
  • developing synthetic understanding of the biogeochemistry of the east and gulf coasts; and
  • forecasting OA events in Pacific Northwest waters.

As part of its review and selection process, OAP solicits input and feedback from external reviewers to ensure alignment with broader community requirements and to maintain the highest quality investments.. “External review of the OAP’s investments on ocean acidification is crucial to making sure that the OAP funds top-notch science at NOAA facilmding needed to respond to ocean acidification at local to global levels,” said Dr. Jewett.  “Such ‘daylighting’ of the OAP’s investments is an important part of building a trusting community that works on ocean acidification together,” she continued.

In early FY17, the OAP will revisit its overall investment portfolio in preparation for its next three-year funding cycle (FY18-20). Because the field of ocean acidification is making discoveries so rapidly, the OAP expects that many exciting new avenues of research will have developed based on advances made over the next few years.


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