Coastal buffers: Great Bay is more vulnerable to acidification in autumn, new research finds

The autumn may be a time when Great Bay Estuary — and the oysters, seagrass and fish that inhabit it — is particularly vulnerable to the effects of ocean and coastal acidification caused by climate change, according to new research from UNH.

For three and a half years, scientists have been monitoring the buffering capacity of the saltwater and freshwater mingling at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. Buffering is the chemical ability of a water body to counteract the effects of acidification. This long time series of data has provided a clearer picture of how the buffering varies throughout the year, and will inform efforts to combat acidification impacts on shellfish, seaweed, and other species growing in the estuary and along the Seacoast.

A gloved hand holds two oysters near the water with oyster cages in the background.
Oysters have a difficult time forming their calcified shells in acidic waterways.

Chris Hunt, a research associate professor in the UNH Ocean Process Analysis Laboratory, is the first author on a new study published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography that focuses on the chemical and biological dynamics that determine the pH of New Hampshire’s coastal waters. Ocean acidification (OA) has come into focus in the last decade, as ocean water is absorbing some of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which then decreases the pH of the water and makes it more acidic. This has led to impacts on shellfish and coral reefs that are then challenged to form their hard calcified shells in the acidic environment. However, little is known about coastal acidification (CA), which is influenced by numerous factors that all interact with one another.

“Coastal acidification is a developing concept, and we don’t really know how much OA will in turn affect CA,” Hunt says. “We do know that it has implications for our fisheries, coastal and estuarine health, and carbon sequestration. We’re trying to learn more in order to tease apart the individual effects of OA and CA.” He worked closely with UNH research professors Joe Salisbury and Doug Vandemark to study this phenomenon.

Rebecca Irelan, UNH Today, 13 June 2022. Press release.

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