Ocean acidification effects noted in Hood Canal

I was caught off guard yesterday when scientists studying Hood Canal and Puget Sound announced that ocean acidification could be worse in inland waterways than in the ocean. I received a quick chemistry lesson from Richard Feeley of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Experimental Laboratory and rushed a story into today’s Kitsap Sun.

I have written about ocean acidification in Water Ways in the past. (See June 2, 2009; July 9, 2009; Jan. 22, 2010; March 18, 2010; and April 19, 2010.) I’ve also written about the troubles in oyster hatcheries with the bacteria Vibrio tubiashii (Kitsap Sun, June 18, 2008). But now growing evidence is revealing a close relation between these problems and a threat to some vital critters at the base of the food web.

Jan Newton, an oceanographer who has studied Hood Canal for years, along with her colleagues at the University of Washington have patiently helped me understand the science behind the low-oxygen problems in Hood Canal. I’ve passed much of that information on to readers of the Kitsap Sun and Watching Our Water Ways.

I asked Jan yesterday if she was ready to guide me through this new science behind ocean acidification in Hood Canal and the double-whammy effect connected to the dissolved oxygen problem.

Dick Feeley pointed out a basic problem facing aquatic animals, almost all of which require oxygen to survive. As carbon dioxide levels increase, the rate of respiration increases to obtain enough oxygen for the animals to go about their lives. If oxygen levels are low, the animals will expend more energy just to survive. Some of them may become more sluggish and unable to increase their food intake at the very time they need to replenish their energy reserves.

These kinds of subtle — or not so subtle — effects need to be examined to understand the risks to the entire food web of Hood Canal and Puget Sound.

As for critters with shells, ocean acidification can inhibit shell growth when the animals are tiny and in their free-swimming larval stage — the most vulnerable time of their lives.

I have many questions to explore in the coming weeks and months, as researchers examine new data they are gathering. I’m still reviewing the research report published in the August issue of “Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science.” which can be purchased online for $19.95. Stay tuned for more.

10 thoughts on “Ocean acidification effects noted in Hood Canal

  1. I don’t know why it caught you by surprise. This issue has been talked about for some time and has even been featured in popular magazines like The National Geographic. Perhaps the problem will be solved by seizing all private tidelands and letting beach hikers dump human waste and garbage on the shellfish. Then we won’t have to worry about whether ocean acidification is going to affect shellfish production any more.

  2. Feel free to point me to any specific reports you have seen about inland waterways having a greater acidification rate than the ocean. It is very possible that I didn’t see the studies or somehow missed the point.

    Quoting Jan Newton: “This is the first time that the combined impacts of ocean acidification and other natural and human-induced processes have been studied in a large estuary like Puget Sound.”

  3. Thanks for this brief alert. I’m interested to see how this news and the finding emerge and evolve. Wondering if it has implications for terrestrials, beyond just a loss of food production. Thanks again.

  4. What percentage of ocean acidification is attributed to underwater volcanoes? Your researcher, Mr. Feeley, assigned percentages attributable to climate change and percentages attributable to humans. There was no mention, however, of the percentage attributable to undersea volcanism. Can you get us this number?

  5. That paper would be more persuasive if it were actually peer-reviewed. As such, you would have to go through all of it’s references to determine if he’s actually drawing sound conclusions. Given that the author denies that humans are influencing global warming, it’s not surprising he would try to link volcanic activity instead, despite a lot of science that contradicts that position.

  6. Did you miss this?

    “A fresh peer-reviewed study of volcanoes casts doubt on conventional views of climate scientists who say volcanoes are not a major player in climate change.”

  7. I didn’t miss that. The paper he cites as “peer-reviewed” is in fact simply an article written by an Australian petroleum geologist on his personal website. Again, not persuasive or convincing.

  8. Scientific American Article relevant to this discussion

    July 13, 2010 \

    Puget Sound Chemistry Transformed by Climate Change and Runoff
    Puget Sound is becoming more acidic thanks to a combination of agricultural runoff and rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere
    By Lauren Morello and Climatewire

    A combination of carbon dioxide emitted by human activities and nutrient runoff is transforming the chemistry of Washington state’s Puget Sound, according to a new study.

    Without intervention, the one-two punch could threaten the area’s shellfish industry, said lead author Richard Feely, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

    Feely and his team sampled waters in Puget Sound in February and August 2008, discovering that the estuary’s waters were surprisingly acidic — and in some areas, likely corrosive to many shelled creatures.

    The ocean averages a pH of 8.1, on a 14-point scale where battery acid tests at 0, pure water at 7 and drain cleaner at 14.
    But in Puget Sound’s Hood Canal, Feely and his colleagues sampled water with a pH of just 7.4 in summer 2008. Water in the sound’s main basin carried a pH of 7.7.

    For full article:
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=puget-sound-chemistry-transformed-by-climate-change-abd-runoff

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