National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Broad Overview of and Rationale for Ocean Acidification Work

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) responds to the FOARAM through its role as vice-chair of the IWG-OA and by funding research that contributes to increased understanding of ocean acidification. NASA has supported targeted, approximately annual research opportunities to facilitate ocean acidification research since 2007, details of which are included in the IWG-OA’s biennial reports to Congress. Funded research utilizes NASA's satellite remote sensing observations, as well as in situ observations and models, to support the FOARAM Act's objectives and NASA's mission.  NASA's ocean acidification research may also facilitate operational and management responsibilities of other agencies included in the FOARAM Act, such as the requirement to develop adaptation strategies to conserve aquatic ecosystems vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification.

To study the Earth as a whole system and understand how it is changing, NASA develops and supports a large number of Earth observing missions.  These missions provide Earth science researchers with the necessary data to address key questions about global climate change.  They provide global observations and data about the Earth, and are used to estimate properties of the Earth system. These data include information on the land, ocean, atmosphere, solid Earth, and cryosphere. While NASA’s Earth observing satellite data may be used to understand and conduct research on – and perhaps even monitor – ocean acidification globally, it would be nearly impossible to delineate which NASA missions or data sets are used for studies to support research in ocean acidification. Continuity of key systematic and new satellite observations is critical for Earth science research and other agencies’ management efforts on a local and global scale.  NASA’s data users in Earth sciences number in the hundreds of thousands internationally.  NASA’s direct contributions to ocean acidification research, however, are via the NASA- funded projects.

Specific examples of NASA-funded research include projects focused on a type of calcifying phytoplankton known as coccolithophores, as blooms of coccolithophores can be seen from space. As part of the Impacts of Climate on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment (ICESCAPE) project field work (2009-2015), the research team working in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas explored the roles of these calcifiers in the ecosystem and whether these organisms are harbingers of a polar biogeochemical province in transition. The dataset collected by this project can help us understand how the biological pump, a component of ocean carbon cycling, and ocean albedo (i.e., reflectiveness to solar radiation) might change in the future under ocean acidification. It will also help discern long time-scale changes in Arctic Ocean calcifiers associated with climate change.  Similar to the ICESCAPE program, NASA has funded studies on the Arctic Pacific shelves on the biogeochemical cycling of inorganic carbon and air-sea CO2 fluxes, both of which are fundamental to understanding ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification research has also been funded by calls from NASA’s Carbon Cycle Science program since approximately 2007. For example, a funded project is assessing the impact of ocean acidification on calcification in marine plankton using satellite analysis and Earth system modeling.  Marine planktonic calcifiers, such as coccolithophores, foramanifera, and pteropods, are an important component of the ocean carbon system, and their role in ocean carbon cycling may be modified substantially by rising atmospheric CO2 and climate change.  The overall goal of this project is to better understand the magnitude of ocean acidification and climate change impacts on marine inorganic carbon dynamics, ocean carbon storage and atmospheric CO2 levels over the next several decades to centuries.

The NASA annual research announcement entitled Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) solicits basic and applied research in support of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Within the annual ROSES omnibus solicitation from 2007 through 2012, there were approximately ten open opportunities (referred to as ROSES program elements) for institutions to propose to NASA research on ocean acidification. There were three ROSES program elements identified where peer-reviewed  projects that proposed to undertake ocean acidification research were selected. For the approximately seven ROSES program elements where ocean acidification research was not supported, either the agency did not receive proposals in the topical area of ocean acidification, or the proposals the agency received in the topical area of ocean acidification were not highly peer-reviewed and therein were not recommended by the agency for support. For the ROSES program elements where proposals to conduct research in ocean acidification were selected and supported, the agency could have identified ocean acidification as a priority topic, or the proposing institutions could have identified ocean acidification as a priority topic in response to an open science competition.

NASA’s Earth Science Research Program supports research activities that address the Earth system to characterize its properties on a broad range of spatial and temporal scales, understand the naturally occurring and human-induced processes that drive them, and improve capabilities for predicting Earth system’s future evolution. The focus of the Earth Science Research Program is the use of spaceborne and aircraft measurements to provide information not available by other means, and data collected by it addresses ocean acidification.  This program is end-to-end in its scope in that it develops observational techniques and the instrument technology needed to implement them; tests them in the laboratory and from an appropriate set of surface-, balloon-, aircraft-, and/or space-based platforms; uses the results to increase basic process knowledge; incorporates results into complex computational models that can be used to more fully characterize the present state and future evolution of the Earth system; and develops partnerships with other national and international organizations that can use the generated information in environmental forecasting and in policy, business, and management decisions.

Near-future Activities Related to Ocean Acidification (Planned within the Next 2 Years)

In FY 2014 and 2015, NASA solicited proposals for Carbon Cycle Science investigations jointly with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy and NOAA. Projects funded by NASA under this solicitation relevant to ocean acidification research will be conducted over the next three years.  Some examples of planned research include combining satellite, autonomous underwater vehicle, and ship-based measurements from the multi-decadal time series Gulf of Maine North Atlantic Time Series to model the carbon cycle in the Gulf of Maine. This project will continue the Gulf of Maine North Atlantic Time  Series which is a 35-plus year, NASA-centric, field program that crosses the Gulf of Maine to collect bio- optical, hydrographical, biological, biogeochemical, and chemical (including carbon-relevant) data for  use in satellite calibration/validation studies, as well as a long-term transect time series. It will also provide insight about the long-term carbon cycle changes in the Gulf of Maine and the major processes that affect the coastal ocean, including from climate-driven changes such as increased precipitation and temperature. The longer duration time series supported by this project will better resolve climatological phenomena spanning time scales of days to decades and a coupled physical/ecosystem model that can be used test hypotheses relevant to each part of the Gulf of Maine carbon cycle and the impacts of climate change.

NASA is currently funding a modeling project focused on the variability of acidification in coastal waters. This project seeks to improve understanding of processes controlling carbonate system variability in coastal areas, and to demonstrate that ocean color satellite data are poised to play an integral role in this field of research. It will provide estimates of processes affecting acidification including physical residence times, mixing, dispersion, and net local terms associated with community productivity.

NASA is also funding carbon synthesis activities, including air-sea CO2 flux and carbon budget synthesis and modeling in the entire Gulf of Mexico. Uncertainties in coastal carbon fluxes are such that the net uptake of carbon in the coastal margins remains a poorly constrained term in global budgets.  The State  of the Carbon Cycle Report (Takahashi et al., 2009) indicated that the Gulf of Mexico was the single largest area that was unknown with respect to the direction of CO2 flux (i.e., sink or source) in the entire US coastal margin.  As a result, this team will undertake a data synthesis and modeling plan with goal of characterizing the carbon budget and carbon fluxes in this region.

Far-future Activities Related to Ocean Acidification (Planned within the Next 3-5 Years)

Each year, NASA develops and releases the ROSES omnibus solicitation anew. NASA revises the ROSES content, including Agency and program research priorities, as per the Agency mission in conjunction with the domestic and international research communities’ and programmatic priorities. NASA seeks to   build on the latest cutting edge research and state-of-the art findings in Earth Science with opportunities in the annual ROSES omnibus solicitation. NASA accepts proposals in a very wide range of topics, and will continue to work with the research community and agency partners to prioritize research topics and opportunities for collaboration.