Ocean acidification on menu for Science Pub Monday (excerpts)

(…) Monday night featured George Waldbusser, an assistant professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences who conducts research on ocean acidification and its effects of oyster and bivalve development.

“If the public isn’t engaged in the research that their funds are helping to support, it’s really a disservice,” Waldbusser said. “An atmosphere like science pub makes understanding much more personal; it is much less dense and technical than reading articles online.”

The easy environment is reinforced by the light, interactive nature of the presentation, with Monday night’s lecture featuring multiple activities meant to engage the audience and help them understand ocean acidification, carbon dioxide emissions and how CO2 saturation differs in various types of ecosystems.

Waldbusser began by walking the audience through the carbon cycle and discussing its effects on the climate, particularly in the oceanic ecosystems of Oregon that are more prone to acidification due to an upwelling of nutrients and fisheries production, naturally elevating CO2 levels.

“A major portion of this increasing atmospheric CO2 is due to fossil fuel emissions,” Waldbusser said. “Undersaturation events are projected to increase in frequency, intensity and duration in coming decades, which will continue to contribute to ocean acidification on the Oregon Coast.”

According to Waldbusser, experiments and studies to date have shown that about 50 percent of bivalves are negatively affected by acidification during their development. Ocean acidification has even been shown to increase anxiety in rockfish, which Waldbusser said — amidst the laughter in the audience — was one of his favorite articles regarding ocean acidification.

Waldbusser then began to speak about the impact of ocean acidification on oyster development, supported by images and articles from the journal Nature, the New York Times and other major international sources. He mentioned loss of oyster seed production in hatcheries due to ocean acidification, which has had major impacts on the economies of rural coastal towns in Oregon.

This has triggered the oyster hatchery owners to pump calcium carbonate into their water when deemed excessively acidic, increasing the survival and reproductive rates of oysters within the hatcheries. According to Waldbusser, conditions in which the larvae develop are akin to neonatal conditions, with even small fluctuations in chemistry and nutrition having major implications in the development of the oyster’s shell (comprised of calcium carbonate). The work of Waldbusser and his colleagues has helped save millions of dollars in hatcheries across Oregon and Washington alongside improving the ecosystem dynamics of the Oregon coast.

“What can be done to manage acidification?” Waldbusser said. “Turn off the carbon source, improve breeding programs for commercially viable and culturable species, identify and mitigate other local driver and continue support for research and monitoring.” According to Waldbusser, laboratory techniques are being implemented in oyster hatcheries in Oregon and Washington seeking to further assist oyster growers. The main things that can be done, Waldbusser reinforced, is to increase education and implement techniques aimed to decrease carbon footprints.

Waldbusser ended the night with comment about carbon dioxide.

“Well, that’s about all that I have to say for the evening,” Waldbusser said. “I think I’ve exhaled enough CO2 for the night.”

Justin Frost, The Daily Barometer, 11 May 2015. Article (excerpts).

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