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.


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.


Physiological response of the red tree coral (Primnoa pacifica) to low pH scenarios in the laboratory

Bob Stone, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Deep-sea corals are widespread throughout Alaska, including the continental shelf and upper slope of the Gulf of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, the eastern Bering Sea, and extending as far north as the Beaufort Sea. Decreases in oceanic pH and resulting decreases in calcium carbonate saturation state could have profound effects on corals dependent on the extraction of calcium carbonate from seawater for skeletal building. Corals will be affected differently depending on their skeletal composition (aragonite vs. calcite), geographical location, and depth. The aragonite and calcite saturation horizons are already quite shallow in areas of the North Pacific Ocean and are predicted to become shallower in the near future. The skeletal composition is known for only a few Alaskan coral species and may be composed of aragonite, calcite, high-magnesium calcite, or amorphous carbonate hydroxylapatite. Skeletons composed of high magnesium-calcite are the most soluble and consequently corals with high-magnesium calcite skeletons, particularly those residing at depths deeper than the saturation horizon, are most at risk to decreases in oceanic pH. At the completion of this project we will be able to provide a comprehensive risk assessment for all corals in Alaskan waters.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Categories: Projects

Effects of OA on Alaskan gadids: sensitivity to variation in prey quality and behavioural response

Tom Hurst, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center

To date many studies of the effects of ocean acidification on fishes have suggested that fish are somewhat resilient to effects on factors such as growth and survival. However, these experiments have generally not included potential interactive stressors which may increase the sensitivity to acidification stress. Further, experiments on some species have demonstrated the OA stress has significant potential to disrupt sensory and behavioral systems in fishes which could compromise survival in natural settings. In this project we will focus on examining the potential for behavioral disruptions due to OA and the interactive stresses of OA and nutritional state on critical Alaskan groundfishes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Categories: Projects

Forecasting the effects of OA on Alaska crabs and pollock abundance

Mike Dalton, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center

The aim of this project was to forecast effects of ocean acidification on the commercially important Alaska crab stocks including the Bristol Bay red king crab (BBRKC) fishery, which is part of a modern fisheries management program, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) crab rationalization program. To investigate the biological and economic impacts of OA, a linked bioeconomic model was developed that a) integrates predictions regarding trends over time in ocean pH, b) separates life-history stages for growth and mortality of juveniles and adults, and c) includes fishery impacts by analyzing catch and effort in both biological and economic terms. By coupling a pre-recruitment component with post-recruitment dynamics, the BBRKC bioeconomic model incorporates effects of OA on vulnerable juvenile crabs in combination with effects of fishing on the BBRKC population as a whole. Many types of projections under management strategies can be made using linked bioeconomic models.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Categories: Projects

Assessing the capacity for evolutionary adaptation to ocean acidification in geoduck

Rick Goetz, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Categories: Projects