NOAA Releases Ocean Acidification Research Plan

Published Mar 28, 2014 6:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

NOAA and its partners have released the first federal strategic plan to guide research and monitoring investments that will improve our understanding of ocean acidification, its potential impacts on marine species and ecosystems, and adaptation and mitigation strategies.

 “Maintaining healthy marine ecosystems in the face of ocean acidification is one of the top natural resource challenges of this century,” said Robert Detrick, assistant administrator of the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.  “As today’s strategic research plan demonstrates, NOAA and our federal partners are collaborating to meet the challenge of ocean acidification with coordinated and comprehensive research programs.”

The plan was developed by the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification, which brings together scientists from NOAA, the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Department of Agriculture, Department of State, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and U.S. Navy. Congress called for the Interagency Working Group and charged it with developing a strategic plan to guide research and monitoring of ocean acidification as part of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009 (FOARAM Act).  The plan is also a nec­essary early step towards successful implementation of the National Ocean Policy.

Some highlights of the plan’s research goals include:

•    Improve existing observing systems that monitor chemical and biological effects of ocean acidification and document trends.
•    Undertake laboratory and field research to examine the physiological, behavioral, and evolutionary adaptive capacities of selected species and complexes of species. 
•    Develop comprehensive models to predict changes in the ocean carbon cycle and effects on marine ecosystems and organisms.
•    Develop vulnerability assessments for various CO2 emissions scenarios.
•    Assess the cultural, subsistence, and economic effects of ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is an increase in the acidity of the ocean, which is happening because the ocean is absorbing increasing amounts carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the release of carbon dioxide from industrial and agricultural activities has increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs about a quarter of the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere each year, so as atmospheric levels have increased so have levels in the ocean. 

Laboratory and field research has found that many marine organisms respond negatively to ocean acidification, especially those species that make shells or skeletons from calcium carbonate, such as oysters and corals. These negative effects include decreased growth and survival, as well as changes in physiology and metabolism. Ocean acidification is likely to affect not only these species, but also the industries, such as fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism, that depend on them.

“Scientific study of ocean acidification is young enough that researchers are making surprising major discoveries every year,” said Dr. Libby Jewett, director of NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program. “Federal investment in basic research, long-term monitoring, and multi-disciplinary, applied research, will allow U.S. scientists to develop the knowledge needed to inform policy and help prepare society for rapid shifts in ocean chemistry.”

The strategic plan is available online. More information about the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification and federal agencies’ activities on ocean acidification can be found at the interagency website.