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No safe haven for coral from the combined impacts of warming and ocean acidification

Corals reefs face double threats from rising atmospheric carbon dioxide: severe heat stress and ocean acidification. Severe heat stress causes bleaching (the expulsion of corals’ food-producing algae). Ocean acidification (the drop in seawater pH as the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide) reduces the availability of calcium minerals for skeleton building and repair. The combination of these two threats poses a Catch-22 for coral reefs. In many cases, the longer a reef is protected from severe heat stress, the more time the ocean has to absorb carbon dioxide, and the greater the threat the reef will face from acidification by that point in time.

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Ocean sciences in the United States

ocean sciencesThe role of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in supporting the ocean sciences in the United States is examined here by Open Access Government

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency in the U.S. that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

This article looks at the work of NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE), within the NSF, who exist to support research, education and infrastructure that advance our understanding of the global oceans and ocean basins, including their interactions with the integrated Earth system and human beings. Within this division is the Marine Geosciences Section, which has a Chemical Oceanography section and one for Marine Geology and Geophysics (MG&G).

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Community based water sampling for ocean acidification is taking off in Southeast Alaska

Building on an established Tribal network, a number of new communities are now taking part in a weekly sampling program that is providing baseline data on conditions in Southeast Alaska.  Juneau, Wrangell, Hoonah, Yakutat, and Kake are currently collecting ocean chemistry samples, and Craig, Ketchikan and Petersburg are expected to begin as well.

The network is part of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska’s SEATOR program (Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research), and coordinated by Esther Kennedy. “We have a harmful algal bloom and biotoxin monitoring program already in place where members from 16 different communities send weekly shellfish and plankton samples and ship the shellfish to  our lab,” Kennedy said. “Adding water sampling for ocean acidification was a natural extension, as both are issues our partner communities are concerned about.”

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Sometimes acidification research requires a scrub brush


© Courtesy of Dr. Janet J. Reimer

Taking care of coastal acidification monitoring equipment provides great insights into the factors that cause acidification.

Dr. Janet Reimer, a postdoctoral research associate at University of Delaware, describes how regular coastal ocean monitoring provides clues about the sources of acidification in nearshore waters. When she’s not at work on the high seas, Dr. Reimer enjoys camping, taking trips to the beach, gardening and spending time with her family in land-locked Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

My job as a scientist could be described as part detective, part adventurer and part cleanup crew. My nemesis? Coastal ocean acidification, also known as “COA,” is affecting some of our nation’s largest estuaries and important marsh habitats. Plants and animals in these ecosystems don’t thrive in lower pH conditions, where acidity is high. Here at the University of Delaware, we have joined the effort to combat COA by monitoring the partial pressure of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary factor that influences marine pH.

Continue reading ‘Sometimes acidification research requires a scrub brush’

The oceans are acidifying. What does that mean for us? (video)

Climate change has a less well-known but no less dangerous sibling: ocean acidification. Excess carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed into the ocean, where it reacts with seawater to form an acid. Acidified water eats away at the hard body parts of animals like coral, bivalves and plankton. In this video, Sarah Cooley, an expert on ocean acidification, explains what this unsettling phenomenon means for marine creatures and for us.

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How about that water quality? – Lowcountry locals learn how runoff from land and increased rainfall contribute to local acidification

© Timothy Meinberg

Talking about water quality isn’t most people’s idea of the ideal ice breaker. In the Lowcountry (loosely defined as coastal South Carolina and Georgia), folks typically find common ground discussing the region’s warm weather, great food, vibrant culture and remarkable history.  But water quality is quickly becoming the talk of the town as locals are growing concerned about how sea level rise and increased rainfall amounts are impacting their local water quality. With more than 50 days of tidal flooding each year overwhelming Charleston’s sewer system, people are talking about water quality concerns over bacteria levels in floodwaters.

I waded into the topic two weeks ago at a coastal acidification and water quality workshop with South Carolina and Georgia fishermen, shellfish farmers, scientists, water quality experts, community advocates and other stakeholders. Although ocean acidification is fundamentally caused by carbon dioxide emissions, local sewage runoff can worsen acidification near the coasts. The good news is that by addressing local runoff, we can help reduce nearshore acidification. There are many land-based sources of acidification, including leaky septic tanks, overwhelmed sewer systems, pet waste, farm runoff pollution, urban sprawl and increased rainfall. These sources bring excess nitrogen, phosphorus, organic carbon and bacteria to coastal waterways, setting the stage for algae blooms followed by bacteria that digest the blooms and exhale carbon dioxide. This changes the water chemistry by lowering the water pH, and increasing acidity levels.

Continue reading ‘How about that water quality? – Lowcountry locals learn how runoff from land and increased rainfall contribute to local acidification’

Can marine plants save us from ocean acidification – what do models say?

Climate change is a big deal in California, and scientists keep searching for solutions. Common imprints of climate change on the daily life of Californians include increased droughts, more frequent and severe wildfires, stronger heatwaves, and less snowpack. Fossil fuel emissions change our climate, and these greenhouse gases present yet another sinister threat: they increase ocean acidity along our treasured California coast. Our more acidic ocean poses big problems for key marine organisms, so it’s important to understand the role of marine plants. Specifically, can marine plants save us from ocean acidification?

Continue reading ‘Can marine plants save us from ocean acidification – what do models say?’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book