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Assessing the laboratory and field responses of diatoms and coccolithophores to ocean alkalinity enhancement

Phytoplankton, most likely coccolithophors, in the Atlantic on 15 Feb 2006. Credit: NASA

Why we care
Ocean alkalinity enhancement relies on modifying the acid-base properties of seawater to remove carbon dioxide, however the effect of this strategy on primary productivity, cell physiology, and carbon export remain unknown. These impacts are not only potential ecosystem effects, but may influence the efficiency of carbon dioxide removal. This research focuses on understanding the impacts of ocean alkalinity enhancement as a method of removing carbon dioxide from the ocean on phytoplankton, specifically diatoms and coccolithophores.

What we will do
This project aims to address potential impacts of ocean alkalinity enhancement on phytoplankton by conducting laboratory and field experiments. Laboratory experiments will assess the effects of ocean alkalinity enhancement on representative diatom and coccolithophore species. Next, the team will study the response of natural diatom and coccolithophore communities to ocean alkalinity enhancement during research cruises. They hypothesize that the impact of ocean alkalinity enhancement will depend on the dominant phytoplankton species in the community. Lastly, this study will evaluate the response of a natural microbial community to a dispersing plume of dissolved alkalinity during a field trial. The research team anticipates that the differences in the community response inside and outside the plume will be measurable but insignificant. The project also evaluates the effect of biomass loading during a bloom progression, assessing community composition, mineral production, particle dynamics, and carbon export. 

Benefits of our work
This work will provide valuable insights for ocean alkalinity enhancement practitioners, modelers, and stakeholders, and to generate important measurements of ocean alkalinity enhancement biological responses in the field.

Award amount: $1,026,045
Funding source(s): NOAA
IRA funding? Yes
Project duration: 3 years

Adam Subhas, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Kay Bidle, Rutgers University
Kimberlee Thamatrakoln, Rutgers University

Read the press release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)

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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:


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


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


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


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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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
       More for Taking Community Action