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
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2010 and 2011, Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) scientists at the Kodiak Laboratory in Alaska tested the effects of lower pH due to increased carbon dioxide (CO2) on the survival, condition, and growth of red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus). Commercially important shellfish are a priority for AFSC research related to ocean acidification because of their economic value and because calcifying species are likely to suffer direct effects due to increased acidity (and a decrease in calcium carbonate saturation state) of our oceans.
The multi-year project objectives are to test the effects of CO2 enrichment (which leads to decreasing pH and lower saturation state) across a range of commercially important crab species and life stages (embryo, larvae, juveniles, and adults). The response variables currently measured include mortality, condition, growth, and calcification of the shell.
We will examine the effects of OA conditions (elevated pCO2) on the adaptive response of a potentially vulnerable native marine mollusc species with ecological, economic and social importance in the Pacific Northwest: geoduck clams (Panopea generosa). Geoduck clam larvae will be exposed to normal and elevated pCO2 and surviving larvae will be assessed using genomic sequencing to determine changes in allele frequencies at single nucleotide polymorphisms throughout the genome, and changes in the frequency of methylation states (epialleles) throughout the epigenome. Existing ecosystem models of OA consider a species' response to increased pCO2 as a fixed attribute; however, interpretations of the effects of OA at the population level may shift substantially if species adapt to the new environment. Furthermore, we will gain a better understanding of how specific genetic and epigenetic variations influence phenotype and the ability of an organism to respond, giving us new insights into fundamental aspects of species adaptation to environmental change.
Assessing a species’ risk to ocean acidification (OA) will depend on their duration of exposure to low pH/low saturation state conditions and their sensitivity to low pH conditions. Lab species exposure experiments attempt to measure species sensitivity to low pH. This modeling project estimates species exposure. In FY13, we started using an existing circulation/water quality of model of the Salish Sea and Washington/B.C. Coasts developed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to understand carbonate chemistry exposure of zooplankton species. We are using empirical relationships between carbonate chemistry, oxygen, temperature and salinity to add carbonate chemistry to the circulation model. We then use an individually-based model to simulate the movement of various zooplankton species in this environment. In FY15-FY17, we will continue development and publication of results from this model, including exploration of current and future CO2 scenarios. Results from the model will inform the Dungeness crab exposure experiments planned for FY16, as well as general zooplankton vulnerability to OA.
Ecosystem models are used to estimate the potential direct and indirect effects of ocean acidification (OA) on marine resources. The population abundance and distribution of species that are sensitive to seawater carbonate chemistry can experience the direct effects of OA. Even species not sensitive to carbonate chemistry can have indirectly changes in abundance and distribution as a result of changes in their prey, predators, competitors or critical habitat forming organisms that are sensitive. Ecosystem models use information on food webs and other relationships to estimate these ripple effects of OA on important ecosystem services like fisheries.
Species exposure experiments that measure the response of organisms reared in seawater with manipulated carbonate chemistry are an important way to learn about the potential effects of ocean acidification (OA). Experimental systems that closely mimic the natural environment (e.g. with multiple stressors) can lead to studies with greater ecological relevance. Using a combination of NWFSC and OAP funds, the NWFSC built a facility for conducting species exposure experiments at the Montlake Lab, and has started a new facility at the Mukilteo Field station. The facilities include both rearing aquaria and a lab for carbon chemistry analysis (DIC, alkalinity, spectrophotometric pH). The NWFSC experimental systems are considered “shared-use” facilities, in that the systems are available for NWFSC research teams and outside collaborators as capacity allows. In the past, we have worked on collaborative projects with PMEL, University of Washington, Oregon State University, Suquamish Tribe, Evergreen State University, Cal Poly and Western Washington University. These collaborators often provide external funding for experiments, greatly increasing the research that can be conducted.