Ocean acidification may be trouble for Alaskan fish

The waters off Alaska, teeming with enough fish to support more than half the U.S. commercial seafood catch, face a new threat — increasing acidification from the same atmospheric carbon linked to global warming.

Although nobody knows for sure what the effects of higher acidity levels will be, reports of smaller salmon catches are worrying scientists and cast a pall over the state’s $3.6 billion fishing industry.

“These waters are becoming corrosive and harmful to marine organisms,” said Jeremy Mathis, an oceanographer with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

“I can tell you unequivocally, and I think 99.9 percent of scientists would agree, the polar oceans are becoming more acidic faster than the tropical oceans,” said Mathis. “What we can’t do is tell you the exact rate at which that is happening.”

Mathis last month released findings that water samples from the Gulf of Alaska were growing noticeably acidic. He found similar results in Alaska’s Bering and Chukchi Seas.

Around the nation, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has 40 to 60 scientists working at least part time on the subject, said Doug DeMaster, director of the agency’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

“We view it as the evil twin of all the problems associated with global warming,” said DeMaster, who is based in Juneau. It is a subject NOAA takes seriously, he said, but it still does not have enough knowledge to predict the effects.

Yereth Rosen, Reuters, 3 September 2009. Full article.

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