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Decoupling of Estuarine Hypoxia and Acidification as Revealed by Historical Water Quality Data

Citation: Decoupling of Estuarine Hypoxia and Acidification as Revealed by Historical Water Quality Data Chunqi Shen, Jeremy M. Testa, Maria Herrmann, and Raymond G. Najjar Environmental Science & Technology 2023 57 (1), 780-789 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c05949

Hypoxia and acidification are commonly coupled in eutrophic aquatic environments because aerobic respiration is usually dominant in bottom waters and can lower dissolved oxygen (DO) and pH simultaneously. However, the degree of coupling, which can be weakened by non-aerobic respiration and CaCO3 cycling, has not been adequately assessed. In this study, we applied a box model to 20 years of water quality monitoring data to explore the relationship between hypoxia and acidification along the mainstem of Chesapeake Bay. In the early summer, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) production in mid-bay bottom waters was dominated by aerobic respiration, contributing to DO and pH declines. In contrast, late-summer DIC production was higher than that expected from aerobic respiration, suggesting potential buffering processes, such as calcium carbonate dissolution, which would elevate pH in hypoxic waters. These findings are consistent with contrasting seasonal relationships between riverine nitrogen (N) loads and hypoxic and acidified volumes. The N loads were associated with increased hypoxic and acidified volumes in June, but only increased hypoxic volumes in August, when acidified volume declines instead. Our study reveals that the magnitude of this decoupling varies interannually with watershed nutrient inputs, which has implications for the management of co-stressors in estuarine systems.

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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