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The next decade of Alaskan ocean acidification research (text & video)

Webinar page:

February 16, 2021 @ 10:00 am to 11:00 am AKST
Speaker: Jessica Cross, Oceanographer, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory

Over the last decade, ocean acidification (OA) has emerged as one of the most prominent issues in Alaskan marine research, and a possible threat to culturally and commercially important marine resources. Multiple communities around the state are now engaged in their own OA studies and monitoring, and are asking a common question: what risks does my region face? These are especially salient questions for Alaskans, given that the intensity, duration and extent of OA events have been greater than other ocean basins. Given the pace of the observed changes due to OA around Alaska, the area is commonly referred to as a bellwether and the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” for the rest of the global ocean. Here, we will take a look back at the last ten years of OA research in the Bering Sea, and highlight new, cutting-edge biogeochemical modeling, forecasting, and projection efforts that have dramatically increased our capacity to understand Alaskan OA from a large-scale perspective just in the past year. For example, we have scaled point observations to the entire Bering Sea shelf to show that corrosive conditions have covered almost 60% of critical habitat areas in the last ten years, and forecasts indicate that 2020 was even more strongly corrosive compared to the 2003-2019 average. These new insights have been quickly picked up by our colleagues engaged in ongoing laboratory studies of species-specific OA vulnerability and larger-scale ecosystem and bioeconomic analyses of OA impact. Our goal is to continue refining our capacity to identify new risks and emerging resilience of Alaskan ecosystems, and guide sound, evidence-based decisions that support sustainable marine resources in the future.

Continue reading ‘The next decade of Alaskan ocean acidification research (text & video)’

In the Aleutians, climate change and ocean acidification impacts add to legacies of past exploitation

Centuries of human impacts could make it harder for Southern Bering Sea ecosystems to adapt to climate change

A northern sea otter is seen in waters near Kodiak, Alaska. (Lisa Hupp / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Bering Sea region, the Pacific gateway to the Arctic Ocean, is home to ecosystems on land and in the ocean that are both abundant and fragile. It’s also changing very quickly — and those changes offer a preview of the changes in store for other parts of the Arctic. This story is part of an ArcticToday series on the changing Bering Sea — and what those transformations mean for fish, wildlife and people.

In the waters around the Aleutian Islands, the 1,200-mile chain that arcs across the southern edge of the Bering Sea from Alaska to Kamchatka, modern climate change has layered atop a centuries-old legacy of human assaults to send combined impacts cascading through the marine ecosystem.

Evidence is in the once-colorful corals that have nurtured schools of fish supporting some of the world’s largest commercial seafood harvests. Under the clear waters is a pale world that signals a habitat in a tailspin.

Adding to the assault is ocean acidification, to which the Bering Sea is especially vulnerable. The shallow Bering, with its relatively cold waters, abundant sea life and wide seasonal fluctuations, is naturally primed to hold carbon. And carbon emitted by fossil-fuel burning is absorbed from the atmosphere into the water, lowering pH levels and threatening calcium-building life forms — not just the coral reefs, but shellfish such as crabs, as well the tiny creatures such as pteropods that make up the diet of fish like salmon.

The corals’ demise is happening just as information about them and their place in the ecosystem is emerging. The first exploration of Bering Sea corals and associated sponges was conducted in 2002, and new species are still being discovered.

“Just as we’ve realized how widespread the reefs are and how important they are, they’re disappearing before our eyes,” Rasher said. “They’re changing before we even get to know them.”

Barren corals in the western Aleutians are attacked by sea urchins. (Joe Tomoleoni / USGS).

The stakes go beyond otters, kelp and corals.

Warming and acidification threaten the Bering Sea’s multibillion-dollar fishing industry. From pricey king crab to cheap fish patties used in fast-food sandwiches, the Bering Sea provides about half the nation’s commercially harvested seafood. It depends on the sustainable management of the ecosystem.

Continue reading ‘In the Aleutians, climate change and ocean acidification impacts add to legacies of past exploitation’

Nuclear technology can help mitigate ocean acidification caused by climate change

Climate change also causes changes in the oceans, which absorbs about one-fourth of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere each year. Nuclear and isotopic techniques are powerful tools to study the carbon cycle and ocean acidification. These techniques have widely contributed to the understanding of past and present ocean conditions and to predicting the impact of climate change, according to sources from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Ocean acidification

As the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere by human activities, the chemistry and acidity of seawater are modified. This process has become a key global issue in the last decade because of its potential to affect marine organisms and biogeochemical cycles.

Nuclear and isotopic techniques are used contribute to the understanding of this process. Researchers look into past changes in ocean acidity and the impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms and study biological processes like calcification.

The ocean absorbs approximately one fourth of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere

Calcification, marine ecosystems and coral reefs

Below a certain pH and its corresponding carbonate concentration conditions become corrosive to calcium carbonate, which is used by many organisms to build their shells and skeletons. Some corals, pteropods, bivalve mollusks and phytoplankton may be particularly sensitive to changes in seawater chemistry. The energy they spend overcoming the higher acidity could reduce the energy available for physiological processes such as reproduction and growth.

Some marine organisms could be especially sensitive to chemical changes in sea water.

Testing the PH of clams under different conditions (Photo: IAEA)
Testing the PH of clams under different conditions (Photo: IAEA)

Coral reefs are also highly affected. They host some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, yet studies have shown that some corals are sensitive to variations in their environment. In the past, ocean acidification episodes in the geological past led to significant changes in ecosystems, including mass extinctions of some deep-sea marine organisms and the collapse of reef-building calcareous algae and corals.

In the past, acidification periods in the ocean caused significant changes to ecosystems

Fire coral, before and after calcification (Photo: Caitlin Seaview Survey)
Fire coral, before and after calcification (Photo: Caitlin Seaview Survey)

Nuclear and isotopic techniques study the rates of biological processes in marine organisms, such as mussels, oysters and corals. Boron isotopes are used to study past changes in seawater pH; scientists measure their relative amounts in coral skeletons formed thousands of years ago in order to assess past seawater acidity.

Because of the potential impact of CO2 absorption on marine environments and ecosystems, the IAEA’s Environment Laboratories conduct research on topics such as the economic implications of ocean acidification on fisheries. The IAEA also maintains the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC), which helps advance ocean acidification science, capacity-building and global communication.

Nuclear and isotopic techniques study the pH changes in sea water

A major environmental issue of the 21st century

Ocean acidification has emerged as one of the 21st century’s major global threats to marine organisms, ecosystems, and resources and is the specific focus of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.3.

This “other CO2 problem”, still poorly known by the general public, can have potentially dramatic socio-economic consequences for countries depending on marine resources, especially countries with limited possibilities for alternative livelihoods.  As world-wide research activities on ocean acidification and related stressors continue to develop, there is a clear need for effective global scientific cooperation.

The 8th of January (08.01) is the Ocean Acidification Day of Action (8.1 is the current pH of the ocean). the IAEA’s Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre released a video describing its work using nuclear and nuclear-derived technologies to better understand and address the issue of ocean acidification. The video explains how climate change is altering the chemistry of oceans and affecting the health of many marine animals:

CO2 emissions increase ocean acidity

Foro Nuclear. More information.

Does ocean acidification make marine fish grow differently? What about sex-specific effects?

The question of whether ocean acidification (OA) will impact the growth of marine fish remains surprisingly uncertain. The bulk of available evidence in the form of laboratory experiments suggests that most fish are not impacted by OA-relevant CO2 levels, but many studies suffer from the inherent methodical constraints of rearing marine fish in captivity. For example, most experiments cover a small fraction of a species’ lifespan and do not employ restricted feeding regimes which may enable fish to increase feeding to offset metabolic deficits associated with high-CO2 acclimation.

Continue reading ‘Does ocean acidification make marine fish grow differently? What about sex-specific effects?’

The effects of ocean acidification on marine life

The Effects of Ocean Acidification on Marine Life

What are the effects of ocean acidification? What role does an increase in oceanic acidity play in the biodiversity of marine life?

The effects of ocean acidification are so destructive that it’s been dubbed the global warming’s “evil twin.” Specifically, ocean acidification is causing an unprecedented reduction in oceanic biodiversity as tehe increased CO2 concentration is affecting the internal processes of the marine microbiome.

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Gratitude for the coordinated ocean observations and research act

Congress passed a new law to help respond to the ongoing threat of ocean acidification


January is the month when I send the most thank-yous and notes of gratitude to wrap up the holidays and my birthday. After the past year, however, it’s a bit harder than usual to reflect with gratitude when so many are struggling. But writing notes to my family and friends reminded me of a bright moment for our ocean that I am truly grateful for professionally and personally.

After years of working on ocean acidification and being a carbon cycle scientist, I am truly thankful that just before the close of the 116th Congress in December 2020, the members of Congress passed a new law to help respond to the ongoing threat of ocean acidification. The Coordinated Ocean Observations and Research Act reauthorized the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System (IOOS) and it also amended the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009, the law that oversees the country’s response to ocean acidification. Specifically, the legislation asks for regular reports on coastal community vulnerability to ocean acidification that also identify gaps in monitoring and research. It also creates a mechanism to increase engagement and input on ocean acidification monitoring by stakeholders such as coastal resource managers and aquaculture industry members. It calls for further research by the National Science Foundation on ocean acidification impacts, technology and other ocean stresses, including hypoxia (when the ocean has too little oxygen) and harmful algal blooms.

Stay Current

This new law is especially meaningful to us at Ocean Conservancy because it incorporates elements of the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2019, the COAST Research Act of 2019 and the NEAR Act of 2019. Ocean Conservancy advocated for all of these bills (which passed the House of Representatives in June 2019) to support and expand ocean acidification research and to examine the effects of ocean acidification on coastal human communities and other coastal threats—particularly hypoxia and harmful algal blooms. This came as the result of a decade of building awareness and support in Congress to address ocean acidification. It’s wonderful to see this momentum continue and to see ocean acidification increasingly woven in among other ocean issues.

My gratitude also goes to the Biden-Harris administration—already, President Biden has rejoined the Paris Agreement and signed executive orders on climate change that include a lot of big wins for our ocean and focus on environmental justice. These are the right things to do for the planet and everyone who lives on it. Fulfilling the Paris Agreement goals and acting on climate change will go a long way toward curbing ocean acidification outright. The new administration is also returning scientific integrity to our federal agencies and filling them with genuine scientists and issue experts who represent the full diversity found in our country.

Last but not least, my gratitude goes to you all of you—Ocean Conservancy’s fantastic supporters. Without your steadfast support, we could not continue working so hard on behalf of our ocean and ocean-dependent communities, through bad times and good times. I am feeling more optimistic that although we have a lot of work to do to address climate change and heal the ocean, together we are up to the challenge.

Continue reading ‘Gratitude for the coordinated ocean observations and research act’

Researchers collaborate to study impact of ocean acidification on Northeast fisheries, develop management tools

A multi-institution team led by UConn researchers is using computer modeling and biological research to help northeast scallop fisheries facing the threat of ocean acidification.

woman looking at a map of scallops off the east coast
(Yesenia Carrero /UConn Illustration)

A multidisciplinary, multi-institution effort is bringing together computer modeling, biological, and social science research to inform management policies for Northeast scallop fisheries facing the threat of ocean acidification.

The $1,034,822 project sponsored by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Acidification Program includes researchers from the University of Connecticut, NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation (CFRF), and Rutgers University.

Continue reading ‘Researchers collaborate to study impact of ocean acidification on Northeast fisheries, develop management tools’

Addressing the impacts of multiple stressors on shellfish aquaculture through research/industry partnerships

Grant Application Deadline: Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Application Information: More information


The National Sea Grant Office (NSGO) and the Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) are seeking applications that establish, continue, and/or expand collaborations between researchers and the shellfish aquaculture industry. Specifically, applications to this competition should utilize new or existing research/industry partnerships to study how ocean and coastal acidification in combination with other stressors impacts shellfish aquaculture. Projects should utilize multiple parameter physical, chemical, or biological observing systems and/or conduct multiple stressor experimental research. The priorities of this funding opportunity are to (1) build or strengthen relationships between the shellfish aquaculture industry and the aquaculture research community (including university, industry, private sector, tribal, state, and/or federal scientists representing diverse perspectives), (2) develop scientific knowledge on the impact of ocean and coastal acidification in combination with other stressors to shellfish aquaculture, and (3) create data products, tools, technologies, management practices, or other deliverables that are broadly applicable to building resilience within the shellfish aquaculture sector.

Subject to the availability of funding, NSGO and OAP anticipate approximately $2,000,000 total will be available to support approximately 2-6 projects, with each project funded at the approximate level of $100,000 – $300,000 per year for 1-3 years.

This document sets out requirements for submitting to NOAA-OAR-SG-2021-2006704. Additional guidance and tips on how best to prepare an application are provided in the Sea Grant General Application Guide available at (

Open Channels. More information.

CO2 emissions increase ocean acidity (video and text)

IAEA Video

The 8th of January (08.01) was chosen to be the Ocean Acidification Day of Action because 8.1 is the current pH of the ocean. Global ocean acidification is a clear illustration of one of the profound effects of sustained climate change. This phenomenon is changing the chemistry of our oceans and affecting the health of many marine animals, some of which people rely on for their livelihood and for food.

Continue reading ‘CO2 emissions increase ocean acidity (video and text)’

Seven countries in Gulf of Guinea to start monitoring ocean acidification

The BIOTTA (Building CapacIty in Ocean AcidificaTion MoniToring in the Gulf of GuineA) project will be the first coordinated effort in ocean acidification monitoring the Gulf of Guinea and other adjoining coasts in Africa.

With seed funding and equipment support from the Partnership for Observation of the Global Ocean (POGO) and The Ocean Foundation (TOF) respectively, BIOTTA will establish long-term Ocean Acidification monitoring stations in seven countries in West Africa (Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Republic of Congo.

The leader of the BIOTTA working group Dr. Edem Mahu, from the Department of Marine and Fisheries Sciences of the University of Ghana, noted that “a lack of skillset and capacity in the measurement of ocean acidification in West Africa hinders our understanding of the phenomenon and threatens valuable economical and ecological resources in the Gulf of Guinea such as fisheries, aquaculture and tourism. This deficit in ocean acidification measurement skills forestalls our understanding of species vulnerability to changing pH and associated chemical reactions.  Ocean Acidification monitoring in this understudied area has come to stay and we will work assiduously to sustain this brilliant initiative.”

Continue reading ‘Seven countries in Gulf of Guinea to start monitoring ocean acidification’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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