Effort afoot to ramp up study of West Coast ocean’s changing chemistry

SAN JOSE — Members of a multidisciplinary panel tackling the related problems of ocean acidification and low-oxygen zones off the western shore of the continent conceded Sunday they had little to offer yet in the way of solutions beyond what most of us know: We need to dump less carbon dioxide into the air.

But scientists associated with the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel offered hope in a uniquely collaborative, cross-jurisdictional approach set up to move quickly toward a more complete understanding of shifting ocean conditions that enables direct feedback to government decision-makers who can compel action.

The 20-member panel includes representatives from varied research areas across California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, but also has the support of governors of those regions and an urgent desire to develop action strategies, members said during a session of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual convention in San Jose.

The idea is to accelerate the already growing body of research on changing ocean chemistry and tailor studies specifically so government regulators, industry and scientific innovators can adapt problem-solving techniques.

“We want to make sure we have the answers while they’re still useful,” said Francis Chan, an assistant professor in the department of integrative biology at Oregon State University.

There’s little room for delay.

The ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is causing rapid chemical change that is already detectable through marine life observation and through testing that shows low-pH hot spots and areas of depleted oxygen from the coast of British Columbia down toward Baja.

Scientists have already been able to observe the effects of the chemical changes on commercial fisheries.

Chan noted that fishermen observing a die-off of crab on the Oregon coast helped bring the issue of low-oxygen zones to the attention of scientists.

Much of the research into ocean acidification has focused on the effects on shellfish, some of which have issues developing or forming shells that can withstand the corrosive nature of low-ph water.

Mary Callahan, The Press Democrat, 15 February 2015. Full article.

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