Shannon Point scientists receive $557,000 grant to study ocean acidification

Three scientists at Western Washington University’s Shannon Point Marine Center have received a three-year, $557,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the impact on the marine food web of the rising acidity of oceanic waters.

As atmospheric carbon dioxide increases, more CO2 is dissolving in marine waters, affecting the chemistry of the oceans and making them more acidic.

The consequences of this shift toward a more carbon-rich and acid marine environment are unknown for many types of organisms. The NSF-funded study at Shannon Point will examine the potential impact of ocean acidification on a common type of single-celled alga that might be particularly vulnerable due to its calcium-based covering. This alga is an important prey item at the base of the marine food web, so changes brought on by ocean acidification could be felt by its predators, potentially causing a major disruption of the food chain.

The three SPMC scientists – Brady Olson, Brooke Love and Suzanne Strom – carried out preliminary studies with students during the summer of 2009 that documented changes in the algae that could lead to problems. The grant will permit them to document such changes more thoroughly and to examine the potential consequences of such changes on the predator-prey interactions that fuel an important part of the marine food web.

The grant will provide salary support for the scientists who are not in state-supported positions, will support the participation of students in the study, and will provide funding for materials and supplies needed to carry out the research.

This study will complement other work on ocean acidification effects on larval Dungeness crabs being carried out at the marine center as a result of a donation from the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Association.

The Shannon Point Marine Center’s mission is to develop new information about the marine environment, train the next generation of marine science professionals, and contribute to a better understanding of the oceans on the part of the general public.

More information about WWU’s Shannon Point Marine Center can be found at For more on SPMC’s programs and facilities, contact Steve Sulkin, director, WWU Shannon Point Marine Center, at

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