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Acidification and Harmful Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on Earth, holding 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater. Ecosystem services provided by the Great Lakes are vulnerable to a variety of stressors, including harmful algal blooms, eutrophication and oligotrophication, invasive species, contaminants, and changing climate. Acidification within the Great Lakes, as with oceanic systems, is projected to decline in response to increasing atmospheric pCO2.  Ongoing acidification will increase the availability of inorganic carbon within the aquatic system and could reduce stress and energy cost of carbon uptake for certain phytoplankton species, potentially shifting the availability of carbon to favor of one type of algae over the other. In addition, the region is experiencing a rise in aquatic temperatures leading to changes in lake stability.  Thus, the concomitant impact of both temperature and  pCO2 availability may additionally stress the Great Lake's system, potentially driving changes in community dynamics.  In the Great Lakes ecosystem, cyanobacterial HABs (cHABs) have been a recurrent feature since mid-1990s and elevated pCO2 can contribute to the dominance of cyanobacteria within freshwater phytoplankton assemblages. The predominant cHAB is Microcystis aeruginosa, which produces expansive blooms in western Lake Erie and Lake Huron (Saginaw Bay). However, the Great Lakes are impacted by a suite of additional species, including Cylindrospermopsis, Planktothrix, and Cladophora.  Due to the multi-faceted nature of the carbonate system, impacts or potential shifts to phytoplankton species composition and abundance are unknown, however, individual phytoplankton assemblages will likely have unique responses.  Currently, little research has been conducted on inorganic carbon availability, acidification, and their role in phytoplankton dynamics within the Great Lakes ecosystem.  I present a general overview of the current state of knowledge and provide an update on current acidification research activities at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
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ADAPTING TO OCEAN ACIDIFICATION

The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) works to prepare society to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs. Learn more about the human connections and adaptation strategies from these efforts.

Adaptation approaches fostered by the OAP include:

FORECASTING

Using models and research to understand the sensitivity of organisms and ecosystems to ocean acidification to make predictions about the future, allowing communities and industries to prepare

MANAGEMENT

Using these models and predictions as tools to facilitate management strategies that will protect marine resources and communities from future changes

TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT

Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally

REDUCING OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT

On the Road

Drive fuel-efficient vehicles or choose public transportation. Choose your bike or walk! Don't sit idle for more than 30 seconds. Keep your tires properly inflated.

With your Food Choices

Eat local- this helps cut down on production and transport! Reduce your meat and dairy. Compost to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill

With your Food Choices

Make energy-efficient choices for your appliances and lighting. Heat and cool efficiently! Change your air filters and program your thermostat, seal and insulate your home, and support clean energy sources

By Reducing Coastal Acidification

Reduce your use of fertilizers, Improve sewage treatment and run off, and Protect and restore coastal habitats

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TAKE ACTION WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

You've taken the first step to learn more about ocean acidification - why not spread this knowledge to your community?

Every community has their unique culture, economy and ecology and what’s at stake from ocean acidification may be different depending on where you live.  As a community member, you can take a larger role in educating the public about ocean acidification. Creating awareness is the first step to taking action.  As communities gain traction, neighboring regions that share marine resources can build larger coalitions to address ocean acidification.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Work with informal educators, such as aquarium outreach programs and local non-profits, to teach the public about ocean acidification. Visit our Education & Outreach page to find the newest tools!
  2. Participate in habitat restoration efforts to restore habitats that help mitigate the effects of coastal acidification
  3. Facilitate conversations with local businesses that might be affected by ocean acidification, building a plan for the future.
  4. Partner with local community efforts to mitigate the driver behind ocean acidification  – excess CO2 – such as community supported agriculture, bike & car shares and other public transportation options.
  5. Contact your regional Coastal Acidification Network (CAN) to learn how OA is affecting your region and more ideas about how you can get involved in your community
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