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Determining the Influence of Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement on Foraminifera Calcification, Distribution, and Calcium carbonate Production

The colder water assemblage of foraminifera. T. quinqueloba, N. incompta and G. falconensis are common. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Why we care
Foraminifera, or forams, are single-celled organisms that produce calcium carbonate shells and play a crucial role in the ocean’s carbon cycle. Ocean alkalinity enhancement aims to increase the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide by enhancing its buffering capacity. However, the impact of the addition of alkalinity on foraminifera is not well understood. ”Our work seeks to understand how a key group of marine organisms- plankton called foraminifera that make shells- would respond to ocean alkalinity enhancement. When these plankton make their shells, they actually take up alkalinity, which could make ocean alkalinity enhancement less efficient” says principal investigator Dr. Laura Haynes from Vassar College. This project investigates the effects of ocean alkalinity enhancement on these important calcifiers and how forams may impact the effectiveness of this carbon dioxide removal approach.

What we will do
To examine the effects of different materials used in ocean alkalinity enhancement on foraminifera, researchers will grow foraminifera in culture experiments and use advanced imaging techniques to examine the impact on calcification (shell building). They will test three materials: calcium carbonate, calcium hydroxide, and olivine. The research team anticipates that adding calcium-bearing minerals will increase foraminiferal calcification, reducing the effectiveness of ocean alkalinity enhancement, whereas adding magnesium-iron silicates will decrease calcification. The team will also investigate how respiration and shell chemistry of foraminifera respond to ocean alkalinity enhancement to understand changes in their physiology. The project will capture young tropical surface foraminifera as well as mid-latitude sediment-dwelling foraminifera to grow in the laboratory under different ocean alkalinity conditions. Results will help estimate global changes in the ocean’s calcium carbonate budget and its carbon dioxide absorption capacity under global ocean alkalinity enhancement scenarios. 

Benefits of our work
“We need to understand how marine organisms would respond to these proposed climate solutions -not only to evaluate how well they would work, but also to understand the ramifications for global ecosystems” says Dr. Haynes.This research provides valuable insights into the potential impacts of ocean alkalinity enhancement on foraminifera and contribute to understanding of the effectiveness and consequences of this approach on a primary carbonate producer in the open ocean. The research will also contribute to increasing the diversity of the group of scientists involved in marine carbon dioxide removal research by engaging a group of undergraduate researchers from various backgrounds. The project emphasizes creating inclusive and supportive environments for students and making scientific data available for outreach and educational activities.

Award amount: $510,359
Funding source(s): NOAA
IRA funding? Yes
Project duration: 3 years

Laura Haynes, Vassar College
Jennifer Fehrenbacher, Oregon State University
Emily Osborne, NOAA Atlantic Meteorological Laboratory

Read the webstory from Vassar College and press release from Oregon State University

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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