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.
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 oainfoexchange.org/request-account.html
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.
Sustained Observations of Ocean Acidification in Alaska Coastal Seas
Why we care
Coastal regions around Alaska experience some of the most rapid and extensive progressions of ocean acidification (OA) in the United States. Assessments indicate that Alaska coastal communities have a varying degree of vulnerability to OA ranging from moderate to severe. Economically vital fishing regions are the most vulnerable. Sustained monitoring is critical to track the extent and impact of ocean acidification in habitats that are home to sensitive species such as red king crab in the Bering Sea.
What we are doing
This project “rethinks” the coastal Alaskan OA monitoring effort (initiated in 2015) by sampling Alaska waters directly through the annual population survey program of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC). This new vision doubles the spatial footprint of Alaska OA observations, increases the time resolution of these observations, and complements shipboard surveys in Alaska. Carbonate chemistry samples will be combined with fisheries population surveys to assess OA in the habitats of keystone organisms in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
Benefits of our work
This project enhances our understanding of how the accumulation of anthropogenic carbon dioxide affects the seasonal progression of carbonate carbonate chemistry variables in the Gulf of Alaska. The observations can also be used to validate new OA models developed for the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Additionally, it can be applied to bioeconomic forecast models of crab and walleye pollock providing insight on how to adapt and build resilience to impacted industries and communities.
Evaluating ocean acidification vulnerability and interactions among traditional and coastal Alaska industries
Why we care
Many marine species affected by ocean acidification (OA) contribute to Alaska’s highly productive commercial fisheries and traditional subsistence ways of life. Concern exists that acidification will cause ecosystem-level shifts, diminishing the overall economic value of commercial fisheries and reducing food security for communities relying on subsistence harvests.
What we are doing
This project addresses acidification threats in south-central and southeast Alaska. It involves the development of decision support tools incorporating acidification risks into localized socio-ecological systems. The tools are based on a network of models representing acidification hazards, bio-ecological systems, and socioeconomic systems linked to adaptive actions.
Benefits of our work
This project is an exchange of knowledge between scientists, policy makers, and community stakeholders. The network of models creates decision support tools responsive to stakeholder concerns that reflect regional variation in community priorities and their ecological social and management context. The project synthesizes the best available science to determine the risks posed by ocean acidification.
Using next-generation sequencing techniques to assess adaptive capacity and illuminate mechanisms underlying the effects of high pCO2 on Alaskan crab and fish species
Why we care
Many economically important crab and fish species are negatively affected by exposure to ocean acidification predicted to occur throughout their ranges in the coming decades. Ocean acidification results in decreased growth, altered development, weaker exoskeletons, increased energy outputs, altered immune systems, altered behavior, and increased mortality in some of these species. Other stressors such as increased temperature can have interactive negative effects when combined with ocean acidification. Traditional laboratory experiments cannot duplicate the gradual changes that will affect species populations over multiple life-history stages and generations, so using next-generation genetic approaches provide insight into effects beyond specific life stages.
What we are doing
This study will use next-generation sequencing techniques to identify specific alterations in the molecular, metabolic, and physiological pathways of individuals exposed to ocean acidification. This is a way to identify pathways that impart tolerance to ocean acidification and warming. This project determines the effect of ocean acidification and thermal stress on gene expression in Pacific cod larvae and juvenile Tanner crab and identifies genetic markers indicating ocean acidification resilience.
Benefits of our work
Investigators will identify the cellular pathways that impart tolerance to ocean acidification. By comparing individuals that demonstrate low sensitivity to ocean acidification and with the general population, we enhance the ability to predict how adaptation will alter the species’ response to future ocean conditions. This research will inform the fishing industry and coastal, fisheries-dependent Alaskan communities about potential effects of ocean change on commercially important species. Outcomes can be used to drive future responses and adaptations in these industries regarding affected fisheries.
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.