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Unraveling Ocean Acidification’s Mysteries Along the Coast

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In the past, we’ve shared good news with you about ocean acidification research funds allocated by the Federal government. Ever wonder what sorts of research projects NOAA supports with this money? A few days ago, NOAA announced three new awards to universities totaling $1.3 million to study how ocean acidification is changing the coastal ocean. We already know that nearshore waters are becoming more acidic and losing oxygen. These three universities will be looking at the root causes, and trying to understand what that means for marine plants and animals, and the people that rely on them.

What’s new and particularly ambitious about these projects is that they will study ocean acidification in coastal environments, which are incredibly complex. Not only do coastal waters take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they also receive fertilizer, sewage, and toxic chemical pollution from coastal development, host vibrant ecosystems, and receive pulses of freshwater runoff after storms. The net effect is that coastal water chemistry is the product of these layered processes. None of the processes happens at the same time or in the same place, making it difficult to understand which processes drive which effects.

Each of these projects includes developing a computer model that will help researchers “connect the dots” in the coastal zone. These models will show how processes work together over time and space to yield current conditions. Researchers on the West Coast, led by University of California Los Angeles, will explore these layered processes for the California Current, which is home to some of the most abundant fisheries on the continent, including oysters, Dungeness crab, and market squid. Researchers based at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi will be doing this for Texas estuaries like the Nueces estuary, near Corpus Christi, which host a variety of marine life yet are surrounded by intense development on land. Texas fisheries facing ocean acidification include oysters, shrimp, and several fin fish that eat shelled marine creatures. Finally, researchers led by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences will explore the effect of layered processes on the Chesapeake Bay, one of the largest estuaries in the country, to understand how this may affect ongoing oyster restoration efforts there.

In all the studies, researchers will be sharing their discoveries with natural resource managers. The conclusions will provide information on which real-life policies and strategies could best maintain (or improve) the health of these vital coastal zones. And the lessons learned will help other cities’ and states’ managers care for their coastal waters. There’s going to be a lot of bang for these bucks awarded by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, and we can’t wait to learn what new insights the researchers find. Congratulations to all!

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