Ocean acidification deserves more research attention

Ocean acidification off the U.S. Pacific Coast is likely to get increased attention and research dollars with Jane Lubchenco heading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lubchenco, a marine ecologist from Oregon State University, has served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is well grounded in basic research.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Lubchenco discusses some of her priorities, including how NOAA is addressing climate change, along with a report released by her agency in June called “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.”

While I was disappointed that the climate report did not include more about the growing concerns related to chemical changes off the coasts of Washington and Oregon, Lubchenco stated clearly in this interview that she believes more research is needed regarding ocean acidification:

“The oceans are indeed becoming more acidic, as a result of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and that acidity represents a very real threat to much of the life in oceans, ranging from the smallest microscopic plants, to coral reefs, to things that form shells — mussels, oysters, clams — but even things like lobsters and crabs.

“We’ve only begun to scratch the surface in terms of really understanding the full range of the impacts of ocean acidification, and it also affects physiology, not just the making of shells and skeletons.”

Specifically about the Pacific Northwest:

“NOAA has been in the forefront in the research on ocean acidification, and is working in close collaboration with the leading academics on this issue. And we have identified the urgent need to have more instruments in the water tracking and measuring the changes that are underway, so we can better understand the dynamics. And, as you point out, along the West Coast where there is upwelling, there appears to be an area that is already significantly affected, and we’re seeing much greater changes than I think anyone anticipated.

“They’re seeing very low pH levels and the other chemistry that goes along with that, it’s not simply a matter of pH. There are other chemical changes in the ocean water that affect plants and animals, and the rate at which they can make shells, or the rate at which shells are dissolved.

“I just learned today of some very interesting work being done by NOAA and some academic scientists looking at some deep-sea volcanoes in the western Pacific where there is carbon dioxide that is bubbling up from beneath the ocean, and likely causing lower pH in the immediate vicinity of the areas where the bubbles are emerging. And so there are places where it is possible to investigate the consequences of lower pH on the immediate biota in the area. But setting that aside, I think there is great urgency in significantly ramping up research monitoring and research programs on ocean acidification.”

I believe you may find the entire interview worth reading. As an environmental reporter, I think it will be important to follow how research dollars will be spent in the Northwest to investigate these potential life-and-death changes.

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