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NOAA awards will help improve projections of acidification impacts in changing coastal waters

NOAA Ocean Acidification Program

Awards of $1.3 million this year, totaling $4.1 million over three years, will focus on understanding the combined effects of ocean acidification, low oxygen and nutrient pollution on economically and ecologically important species in coastal habitats.
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It is clear that our ocean is increasing in acidity as a result of carbon dioxide seeping into open ocean surface waters. But closer to shore things become a bit murky, as other factors can also change the chemistry of coastal waters. In these waters which are home to many important marine organisms on which coastal communities rely, scientists will be working to shed light on the potential impacts of acidification and other stresses.

There are distinct factors that create these stresses and drive acidification in coastal areas. “It is crucial that we understand how the ocean chemistry is changing in different places, and how it will affect commercial fisheries and critical marine habitats in valued coastal communities,” said Libby Jewett, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program. These awards will allow studies of the coastal water chemistry on the US west coast, in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay to take place over the next few years.
These near shore waters are not only home to valued marine organisms, but are also susceptible to the effects of land based activities. Many coastal areas are experiencing stresses including low oxygen levels and increased nutrient runoff from land into coastal waters. Increased nutrient runoff causes blooms of tiny marine plants or algae. When the algal blooms decompose, deeper coastal waters can become depleted of oxygen. This process also increases carbon dioxide concentrations in the water, which leads to further acidification in localized areas. Additionally, rains not only bring freshwater into the near shore waters, but other sources of carbon. All of these factors: nutrient pollution, low oxygen, and increased freshwater contribute to coastal acidification.
“Acidification, nutrient pollution and low oxygen may fundamentally change these coastal ecosystems. With these and other threats to our coasts, it is imperative that we build better tools for predicting these changes. These projections will inform decisions about fisheries management, protection of coral reefs, and agricultural practices,” said Dr. Libby Jewett. Within NOAA, the Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science  are partnering to answer fundamental questions about how acidification will interact with other coastal stressors to impact marine resources. “These new projects expand the ability of coastal communities to better understand and respond to the very serious threat of acidification to the world's ocean, estuaries and Great Lakes” said Dr. Libby Jewett.
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Understanding how these three stressors interact will allow for better informed marine resource and coastal land management. Dr. James McWilliams of the University of California Los Angeles and lead investigator for the California Current project explained that “The motivation is to understand the potential negative effects of low oxygen and acidification on the base of the food web in this highly productive ecosystem.  We are particularly interested in understanding how regional pollution management practices can have outcomes locally.” This research will help determine which areas of the California Current are particularly vulnerable to low oxygen and acidification.

In Texas, short term coastal acidification events have been noticed in the local estuaries. Researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi note that the events have become longer and longer.
This research team, led by Dr. Paul Montagna at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, will be investigating how drought and land use change affect coastal acidification. They will then use that information to predict how future acidification and changes in rain patterns will impact the estuarine ecosystems of Texas.
On the US east coast, Dr. Jeremy Testa is leading a project in the Chesapeake Bay focused on the Eastern oyster, one of the bay’s most economically and culturally important species. “Attempts to restore the Eastern oyster in Chesapeake Bay could be affected by future changes,” Testa said. “In this project we hope to understand what role oyster reefs play in the cycling of nutrients and carbon and how these cycles may help or harm the restoration of oyster reefs. We are also interested in discovering which regions of the bay are least vulnerable to acidification and might be ideal for oyster reef restoration.”
This research and the models developed from these projects will allow scientists to better understand acidification of our coastal waters driven by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and amplified by local processes.  With information about the drivers behind and projected impacts to different coastal ecosystems, coastal and land-based resource managers will have tools to better manage our valued coastal resources.

 

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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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