Instrument array, seaglider deployed to study ocean acidification off Washington waters

The most sophisticated array of instruments ever put in Washington waters has been mounted on a buoy and Seaglider that was deployed this week off the coast near La Push, in water that typically makes its way into Puget Sound.

Coastal water conditions are of interest to scientists trying to determine the ocean and weather conditions that lead to such things as water with lower than normal pH — often called acidified waters — as well as the creation of low-oxygen waters, like those that have plagued Hood Canal in recent years.

The array will be about 15 miles off the coast, moored in about 300 feet of water. A UW-built Seaglider will operate in nearby waters, continuously diving and surfacing to relay data. The two will collect data on such things as the weather, sunlight and water conditions — ranging from how much carbon dioxide is dissolved in the water to how much phytoplankton growth.

The array will be in water directly off La Push. The Quileute Tribe there held a contest to name the buoy. The chosen name Chá ba, pronounced “chay buh,” means “whale tail.”

After deployment, data from the array will be available online at along with readings from dozens of other sensors and instruments that are part of the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems directed by the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory with NOAA funding.

The array and Seaglider are funded with about $500,000 from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust and approximately $200,000 in matching funds from the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory, provost’s office and the former College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences.

In another research effort, scientists have discovered that the water chemistry in the Hood Canal and the Puget Sound main basin is becoming more “acidified,” or corrosive, as the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These changes could have considerable impacts on the region’s shellfish industry over the next several decades.

The study, co-sponsored by NOAA, the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory and School of Oceanography, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was conducted in the winter and summer of 2008 to determine the combined effects of ocean acidification and other natural and human-contributed processes on Puget Sound waters. Annual survey support is typically provided by UW’s Puget Sound Regional Synthesis Model Program, while EPA provided the ocean survey vessel Bold for the summer survey.

“We observed unusually low pH values in the deep waters of southern Hood Canal,” said Richard Feely, director of the Ocean Acidification Program at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “Our calculations suggest that ocean acidification can account for a significant part of the pH decrease in this region.”

The Columbia Basin, 16 July 2010. Full article.

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