Alaskan ocean acidification

30 Jul 2014
Alaska’s coastal waters are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because of cold water and unique ocean circulation patterns Photo: NOAA

Alaska’s coastal waters are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because of cold water and unique ocean circulation patterns Photo: NOAA

Ocean acidification is driving changes in waters vital to Alaska’s valuable commercial fisheries and subsistence way of life, according to new National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (NOAA) led research.

The term “ocean acidification” describes the process of ocean water becoming more acidic as a result of absorbing nearly a third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from human sources. This change in ocean chemistry is affecting marine life, particularly the ability of shellfish, corals and small creatures in the early stages of the food chain to build skeletons or shells.

Studies show that red king crab and tanner crab, two important Alaskan fisheries, grow more slowly and don’t survive as well in more acidic waters. Alaska’s coastal waters are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification because of cold water that can absorb more carbon dioxide, and unique ocean circulation patterns which bring naturally acidic deep ocean waters to the surface.

“Ocean acidification is not just an ecological problem — it’s an economic problem,” said Steve Colt, co-author of the study and an economist at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “All Alaskans need to understand how and where ocean acidification threatens our marine resources so that we can work together to address the challenges and maintain healthy and productive coastal communities.”

The study recommends that residents and stakeholders in vulnerable regions prepare for this environmental challenge and develop response strategies that incorporate community values and needs.

While acknowledging that the most important way to address ocean acidification is by reducing carbon dioxide emissions globally, the research shows that by examining all the factors that contribute to risk, more opportunities can be found to prevent harm to human communities at a local level. And NOAA is already working towards doing this with its Ocean Acidification program (www.oceanacidification.noaa.gov/)

The new study is the first published research by the Synthesis of Arctic Research (SOAR) programme (www.arctic.noaa.gov/soar/), which is supported by an inter-agency agreement between NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Alaska Region.

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