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.


Monitoring of water column DIC, TA and pH on the N.E. U.S. shelf and the development of OA Indicators to inform Marine resource managers

Jon Hare, NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Categories: Projects

Testing critical population level hypothesis regarding OA effects on early life history stages of marine fish for the N.E. U.S.

Chris Chambers, NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Categories: Projects

East Coast OA (ECOA) Cruise

Joe Salisbury (University of New Hampshire) & Wei-Jun Cai (University of Delaware)

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. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Categories: Projects

OA products for the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast

Ruben van Hooidonk and Rik Wanninkhof, AOML

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Categories: Projects