Scientists study ‘corrosive waters’ in Alaska

Ocean acidification is a major threat to marine life and commercial interests, and is being closely monitored by scientists in Alaska and the U.S., The Washington Post reports.

Ocean acidification works like this: The burning of fossil fuels pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the emissions. This triggers a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen, which in turn lowers the ocean’s pH.

Today, the ocean is 30 percent more acidic than the sea of the preindustrial era. And that level of acidity could double by 2100, given the rate of global carbon emissions.

This problem is also known as “corrosive waters,” and its impact on marine life is being studied by scientists and regulators across the U.S. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is conducting studies from Hawaii to Alaska to Maine to track the effects of corrosive waters on dozens of species important to commercial interests.

NOAA has teamed up with the state of Alaska to fund 4 buoys to monitor pH levels, while other NOAA scientists are testing how different species would stand to gain, or lose, from ocean acidification.

In this intertwined economic world, marine changes affect more than just a localized area. An oyster die-off in the Pacific Northwest has spurred the Alaska Shellfish Growers Cooperative in Homer to begin efforts to cultivate their own oyster larvae. “We just can’t rely on the Lower 48 anymore,” co-op manager Sean Crosby told The Washington Post. “Even though we’re not seeing ocean acidification in Kachemak Bay, we’re feeling its effects.”

And because the ecosystem is intricately intertwined, when one species suffers major losses, others suffer, too; if vulnerable pteropods die off, Alaska’s juvenile pink salmon will lose a major part of their diet.

Read much more from The Washington Post.

Alaska Dispatch, 2 October 2012. Article.

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