The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel: Major Findings, Recommendations, and Actions

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over the past two centuries have altered the chemistry of the world’s oceans, threatening the health of coastal ecosystems and industries that depend on the marine environment. This fundamental chemical alteration is known as ocean acidification (OA), a phenomenon driven by the oceans absorbing approximately one-third of atmospheric CO2 generated through human activities. Scientists initially observed the impacts of OA on calcifying marine organisms that were having difficulty forming their shells, but additional evidence now indicates that growth, survival and behavioral effects linked to OA extend throughout food webs, threatening coastal ecosystems, and marine-dependent industries and human communities (see Appendix A).

Although OA is a global phenomenon, emerging research indicates that, among coastal zones around the world, the West Coast of North America will face some of the earliest, most severe changes in ocean carbon chemistry. The threats posed by OA’s progression will be further compounded by other dimensions of global climate change, such as the intensification and expansion of low dissolved oxygen – or hypoxic – zones. In the coming decades, the impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia (OAH), which are already being felt across West Coast systems, are projected to grow rapidly in intensity and extent. Even if atmospheric CO2 emissions are stabilized today, many of the ongoing chemical changes to the ocean are already “locked in” and will continue to occur for the next several decades. Given these challenges, decision-makers must act decisively and in concert now.

In an effort to develop the scientific foundation necessary for West Coast managers to take informed action, the California Ocean Protection Council in 2013 asked the California Ocean Science Trust to establish and coordinate a scientific advisory panel in collaboration with California’s ocean management counterparts in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The resulting West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel, comprised of 20 leading scientific experts (see V. The Panelists, page 32), was charged with summarizing the current state of knowledge and developing scientific consensus about available management options to address OAH on the West Coast.

This document, “Major Findings, Recommendations, and Actions” of the Panel, summarizes the Panel’s work and presents Actions that can be taken now to address OAH. The appendices to this document contain a series of two-page synopses that provide more detail on many of the key concepts that are mentioned in the main body. In addition to this document, the Panel has produced a number of longer supporting documents intended for agency program managers and technical audiences (see VI. Additional Panel Products Supporting the “Major Findings,  Recommendations, and Actions,” page 36).

Chan F., Boehm A. B., Barth J. A., Chornesky E. A., Dickson A. G., Feely R. A., Hales B., Hill T. M., Hofmann G., Ianson D., Klinger T., Largier J., Newton J., Pedersen T. F., Somero G. N., Sutula M., Wakefield W. W., Waldbusser G. G., Weisberg S. B. & Whiteman E. A., 2016. The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel: Major Findings, Recommendations, and Actions. California Ocean Science Trust, Oakland, California, USA, 40 p. Report.

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