West Coast waters are turning more acidic – a major threat to shellfish and other marine life – What’s to be done about it?
Governor Kitzhaber launches scientific quest to cope with rising acid levels along the West Coast
(Salem, OR) — Governor Kitzhaber announced today that Oregon is joining with the state of California to establish a new scientific team to focus on the extent, causes, and effects of ocean acidification and hypoxia (lowered dissolved oxygen in sea waters) along the Pacific coastline. The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Team will bring together scientists from Oregon, California, Washington, and British Columbia to develop strategic recommendations for researching and monitoring ocean acidification and hypoxia in the Pacific Ocean.
Ocean acidification is causing problems for shellfish that are struggling to develop shells by the time they become adults. Oyster larvae are especially having a hard time. Oyster cultivation in Tillamook County is having to raise oyster larvae in hatcheries that have normal acidification levels to give the shellfish a chance to properly develop.
Ongoing acidification of the oceans also poses a threat to food chains connected with the oceans. About 30–40% of the carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) released by humans (mainly through fossil fuels into the atmosphere) dissolves as it falls into the oceans, rivers and lakes, which adds to acid build up.
Scientists are learning that ocean acidification is hitting waters off the West Coast earlier and harder than elsewhere on the planet,” said Governor Kitzhaber. “We need a comprehensive and collaborative approach to better understand what this may mean for West Coast fisheries, Oregon’s rich natural resources, and the people who live on and visit the Oregon coast.”
Further, low water oxygen conditions, off the West Coast is a poorly understood phenomenon that also threatens other marine life. Better-coordinated science that identifies data gaps is critical to understanding and addressing impacts.
The newly formed team includes experts from the fields of chemical and physical oceanography, biogeochemistry, marine biology, ecology and physiology. The multi-disciplinary collaboration will evaluate how ocean processes may contribute to regionally distinct reactions to changing acid levels and attempt to better understand the relationship between acidification and hypoxia.
Five Oregon State University researchers will participate on the new effort. “OSU scientists have been leading the way in monitoring and understanding the influence of changing acidity and oxygen levels on ocean and coastal health,” said Jack Barth, Ph.D., a professor and associate dean in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “We all know that ocean currents and habitats don’t stop at any one state’s borders, so we welcome this regional approach.”
The Institute for Natural Resources at Oregon State University and its counterpart California Ocean Science Trust will use their expertise in integrating science with management and decision-making to guide and staff the scientific investigation. These institutions will serve as the link between the science team and government decision-makers.
Ocean scientists will convene periodically throughout 2014.