NOAA Seeks Guidance on Ocean Acidification Research

As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, the oceans become more acidic. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has already developed a 5- year interdisciplinary program on ocean acidification, which includes establishing coral reef monitoring stations, research on the physiological responses of various organisms to increasing ocean acidity, modeling of ocean acidification and its socioeconomic effect, and development of technology for measuring and monitoring carbon dioxide in the oceans.

NOAA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) is considering whether the agency’s plans are appropriate for addressing the requirements of both science and national policy and whether NOAA should be the lead agency in this area of research.

At the SAB’s 6 March meeting, Richard Feely, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, updated Board members on the current state of knowledge on ocean acidification. “Ocean acidification is one of the most serious threats to the world’s ocean ecosystems aris- ing from carbon dioxide emissions,” he said.

Under current carbon dioxide scenarios, by the end of the century the world’s oceans could be unable to maintain current rates of calcification, according to Feely. Populations of many species at the bottom of the food chain that rely on calcification, such as coccolithophores, foraminifera, and pteropods, could be devastated by these changes to ocean acidity. In that fish larvae are very sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide in the ocean, Feely said. Changes in the food chain or larvae survival rates could affect fisheries, such as the Pacific salmon fishery.

Congress requested, in its 2006 renewal of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, that the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) conduct a study on ocean acidification and how this process affects the United States. However, before the study can begin, NOAA needs to develop a statement of task describing what it would like the committee to focus on and needs to find funds for the study.

John Snow, dean of the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, said that there are several areas where the SAB could provide advice to NOAA about its involvement in ocean acidification research, such as helping to design the statement of task for the NRC committee. In addition, Snow, an SAB member, said the Board could recommend that NOAA develop an observing system for ocean acidification and that NOAA work with other U.S. agencies or international partners in this research.

Eos, 88(11):133, 13 March 2007. Journal web site.

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