The Puget Sound shuffle

Inside a cramped Seattle laboratory, the researchers look like fishermen who got sent to a construction job. Wearing orange waders and yellow boots, they thread their way between shelves of tubs filled with what look like giant mason jars.

Overhead, a rainbow of colored tubes bubble gases into tanks, changing the water chemistry to reflect different points in time—past, present and future—as increasing amounts of fossil fuel pollution make the oceans more acidic.

If it’s possible to predict how this process of ocean acidification will affect the Northwest’s marine life, this is where it will happen. Over the next months, the scientists will run experiments on some of the region’s most valuable marine species: geoducks, Pacific and Olympia oysters, pinto abalone, rockfish, crab and tiny shrimp like krill and copepods that are linchpins of the food chain.

They’ll immerse those creatures in baths of acidified seawater and assess their most basic biological functions: how big do they get, can they grow shells, are they developing normally, are they more stressed, do they succumb to disease. And most importantly, do they survive?

And then they’ll tackle the harder task – trying to predict how those changes ripple through an entire marine ecosystem. It’s safe to say that there will be tradeoffs, said Paul McElhany, lead ocean acidification researcher for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center. And some mollusks, such as oysters, look like the early losers.

Jennifer Langston, Sightline Daily, 6 June 2011. Full article.

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