Monitoring the progress of ocean acidification

Alaska is one of a handful of U.S. states to launch a website aimed at keeping track of ocean acidification.

The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network, a collaboration of state and federal scientists, agencies, tribes, conservation, fishing and aquaculture groups, went live last month. Its goal is to provide a forum for researchers to share findings and connect with concerned coastal residents.

Ocean acidification happens when carbon dioxide, generated primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, is absorbed by the ocean. The off-kilter chemistry causes seawater to become corrosive, making it tough for marine creatures to grow scales and shells.

Alaska is particularly susceptible to acidification because its waters are colder and hold more carbon dioxide.

“We are so reliant on the ocean for our lives and livelihood. The seafood industry is valued at about $5.8 billion every year, and it’s the largest private sector employer in the state,” said Darcy Dugan, project coordinator for the Alaska Ocean Observing System.

“The more educated Alaskans are, the more creative they can be in thinking about adaptation strategies and the more confident they can feel about working together to have a sustainable future,” she added.

Since 2011 the ocean-observing system and its partners have sampled pH levels at moorings in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and at the Alutiiq Pride Hatchery in Seward. Researchers also take 1,200 shipboard water samples each year. Starting this fall, the network has partnered with the state ferry system to put measuring instruments onboard at least one vessel.

The average pH in the world’s oceans today is 8.1, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity. Solutions with a pH less than 7 are acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic.

No direct effects of acidification are showing up yet in Alaska sea creatures, but computer models predict the ocean will become acidic sooner than previously thought.

“They are anticipating that the Beaufort Sea will be first to leave its natural range of pH variability around 2025, followed by the Chukchi in 2027 and the Bering in 2044,” Dugan said.

“Based on global estimates of ocean acidification, the Bering Sea may reach a pH level of 7.5 to 7.8 in the next 75 to 100 years, if not earlier,” estimated Bob Foy, director of NOAA’s research lab at Kodiak.

“Once, it reaches those levels, there will be significant decreases in survival and … fishery yields and profits within 20 years,” Foy added.

Ocean acidification in Alaska will be featured at the Aleutian Life Forum Tuesday in Unalaska and at a (free) “State of the Science” workshop Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Anchorage.

Laine Welch, Alaska Dispatch News, 14 August 2016. Article.


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