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Mechanisms Driving Decadal Changes in the Carbonate System of a Coastal Plain Estuary

Citation: Da, F., M.A.M. Friedrichs, P. St-Laurent, E.H. Shadwick, R.G. Najjar, K. Hinson, 2021. Mechanisms driving decadal changes in the carbonate system of a coastal plain estuary. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 126, e2021JC017239, NOAA OAP Grant#NA18OAR0170430 to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Seawater pH, a measure of how acidic or basic water is, is a crucial water quality parameter influencing the growth and health of marine organisms, such as oysters, fishes and crabs. Decreasing pH, commonly referred to as acidification, is a severe environmental issue that has been exacerbated by human activities since the industrial revolution. In the open ocean, elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide is the key driver of acidification. However, in coastal environments the drivers are particularly complex due to changing human influences on land. In this study the primary drivers of acidification in the Chesapeake Bay over the past three decades are identified via the application of a three-dimensional ecosystem model. Increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations and decreased terrestrial nutrient inputs are two primary drivers causing nearly equal reductions in pH in surface waters of the Bay. The pH reductions resulting from decreased nutrient loads indicate that the system is reverting back to more natural conditions when human-induced nutrient inputs to the Bay were lower. As nutrient reduction efforts to improve coastal water quality continue in the future, controlling the emissions of anthropogenic CO2 globally becomes increasingly important for the shellfish industry and the ecosystem services it provides.

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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