National Park Service

Broad Overview of and Rationale for Ocean Acidification Work

The National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of the Interior manages all United States national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties. The National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 provides the NPS with a clear mission statement: “To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wild life therein to provide for the enjoyment of the same in a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” The NPS is entrusted with conserving 79 ocean parks, including over 10,000 shoreline miles and over 2 million water acres, including many tidally influenced estuaries. Marine parks are distributed around the United States from tropical to polar environments, including Alaska, the Pacific coast, the South Pacific islands, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic coast, and the Caribbean. These parks house a wide variety of marine life and span a diverse array of habitats including coral reefs, kelp forests, seagrass beds, rocky and sandy shorelines, and glaciated fjords. Ocean acidification will likely influence all United States marine parks. Understanding the effects of ocean acidification is necessary to inform actions to conserve natural resources within these parks. Maintaining resilient marine ecosystems through restoration and species protection are positive actions the NPS can take to combat the effects of ocean acidification. The NPS represents a unique spatial network of marine habitats and natural resources that are ideal for ocean acidification research, monitoring, and public outreach. Such activities are central to the mission of the National Park Service to conserve these special areas.

On-going Projects Related to Ocean Acidification

The NPS is contributing to knowledge of ocean acidification through research, monitoring, and outreach activities:

In Olympic National Park in Washington, continuously operating, multi-parameter sensors and periodic, discrete seawater samples have been used since 2010 to continuously monitor seawater carbonate chemistry parameters and other associated physical and chemical parameters. The park is currently upgrading its continuous pH monitoring equipment, and is expanding its water chemistry monitoring into the Salish Sea at San Juan National Historical Park. This monitoring program is being conducted in collaboration with the Washington State Ocean Acidification Center at the University of Washington and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

National Parks near the Gulf of Maine (Acadia National Park, Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, Roosevelt Campobello International Park) are experiencing changes in environmental conditions, and park managers are concerned that ocean acidification along with ocean temperature change will create severe shifts in the ecosystems conserved within park boundaries. In Acadia National Park, the National Park Service, Schoodic Institute, Cedar Crest College, and Earthwatch Institute are working together on projects investigating the impacts of ocean acidification on biodiversity, invertebrate shell strength, and intertidal predator-prey interactions. The projects use a “citizen science” approach to meet the park's science needs and to improve participants’ science literacy and understanding of the challenges posed by ocean acidification. High school students and other volunteers come to the park's Research Learning Center for a week or more to collect data in the intertidal zone and perform lab experiments investigating snail-crab interactions in tanks with different pH conditions. Dr. John Cigliano, a professor at Cedar Crest College, is directing these projects and analyzing the data. The NPS anticipate that this partnership will continue as a long-term study into the impacts of ocean acidification on the Acadia National Park intertidal ecosystem.

At Gateway National Recreation Area, researchers are investigating acidification, hypoxia, and algal blooms as barriers to current and future ecosystem restoration and climate change resilience in Jamaica Bay, New York. The goal of this study is to quantify the temporal and spatial dynamics of hypoxia, acidification, calcium carbonate saturation state, and bivalve growth in Jamaica Bay. The study will examine the vulnerabilities of the bivalves that may be targeted for restoration in Jamaica Bay to various environmental conditions and will link the existing conditions to dominant primary producers and nutrient loading in the system. The findings will provide information to refine and improve future ecosystem restoration efforts. This project will further identify the regions of Jamaica Bay likely to be most and least resilient to future climate-change-intensified hypoxia, acidification, and warming.

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

Currently, the NPS does not have a service-wide ocean acidification monitoring network in place. Within the next two years, the NPS Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate will collaborate with other Federal partners to increase research and monitoring in the national parks, national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties parks managed by NPS and will conduct outreach on ocean acidification to NPS staff and visitors. The NPS will also work to develop ocean acidification monitoring protocols for parks, and supplement data collection by the NPS Inventory and Monitoring  Program.

In Alaska, which is home to a number of National Parks, a regional conceptual model will be developed to inform NPS managers of the potential impacts of ocean acidification on the state’s many marine park resources. This model will identify linkages between the physical, chemical, and biological components of Alaska’s marine National Parks and how ocean acidification affects or is affected by these component systems. In addition, the NPS has funded a project at Glacier Bay National Park that will lay the foundation for tying ocean acidification to biological impacts in Alaska’s National Parks. Understanding how ocean acidification impacts the base of the food web in Alaska’s coastal marine systems increases understanding of how ocean acidification is already affecting and will affect parks’ ecosystems and resources. This knowledge is essential to park management in developing a strategic approach to addressing and communicating the potential implications of ocean acidification.

In the Pacific Northwest, continuous ocean acidification monitoring will be enhanced on the outer Pacific coast (Olympic National Park) and in the Salish Sea (San Juan Island National Historical Park). This enhanced monitoring will include continuous pH (using new SeaFET technology), salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen, along with periodic sampling of nutrients, total alkalinity, and dissolved inorganic carbon. This monitoring is being incorporated into the North Coast and Cascades Network of the NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program. Additionally, this work will be part of the PhD dissertation work for Jonathan Jones, an NPS George Melendez Wright Young Leader in Climate Change Fellow at the University of California Santa Barbara. A component of this work will include examining potential changes in intertidal rocky organism community structure as a result of ocean acidification.

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

In the next 3 to 5 years, the NPS will promote the development of conceptual models of ocean acidification effects on a regional/local scale to help identify and prioritize future ocean acidification work, including research and monitoring. With adequate resources, the NPS will investigate the potential effects of ocean acidification on food webs and terrestrial resources that are dependent on marine resources (e.g., bears and wolves that feed on fish). This research will illustrate the cascading effects of changes in the marine ecosystem on the terrestrial food web.

With adequate resources, the NPS will create a 4-year term position in the Ocean and Coastal Branch of  the Water Resources Division that will be dedicated to education and research for ocean acidification. During this time-frame the NPS will also work towards developing a national ocean acidification monitoring program, active resource management training, and public outreach and education.

Ideas for How Agency Could Work with Other Federal Agencies on Activities Related to Ocean Acidification

National Parks contain prime examples of natural resources and processes, including significant genetic resources, that have value for long-term observational studies or as control areas for research taking place outside the parks. National Parks often cooperate with other Federal agencies in identifying park sites for planning, research, and educational activities related to ocean acidification and climate change.

The NPS willingly cooperates with many Federal agencies that are collecting data related to ocean acidification, including the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and NOAA. The NPS continues to support the current and future activities related to ocean acidification that result from partnerships and collaborations with other Federal, tribal, state, and academic institutions. The NPS is willing to improve data sharing and standardized methodology for collecting data relevant to ocean acidification monitoring.

Areas Where Agency Mission is Being Inhibited by Knowledge Gaps that Fall out of Agency’s Purview

The NPS would benefit from an improved understanding of climate change and ocean acidification for the identification of impacts on natural and cultural resources within National Parks. In particular, the nature of ocean circulation patterns, changes in freshwater inputs, and nutrient enrichment of marine waters near National Parks are often key information gaps. This knowledge would be useful for formulating possible mitigation and minimization measures for the NPS to implement service wide.