A Sentinel for Change: Secrets along the seafloor in Olympic Coast NOAA Ocean Acidification Program

Whether you arrive on the Olympic Peninsula by land, sea, or air, you sense its remote, rugged and vast environment immediately. The Olympic Coast is home to productive waters which sustain thriving marine and coastal communities that have long supported the region’s tribal peoples. Ocean waters quickly deepen just offshore, boasting canyons which extend almost a mile below the surface – and have yet to be fully explored.

Scientists aboard the E/V Nautilus are exploring these wonders in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary from August 18th to September 4th, 2017 by deploying nets, remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs), and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to get a peek at life under the sea. The sea floor itself also holds clues to a change this region is particularly vulnerable to – ocean acidification. During spring and summer along the Olympic Coast, deep, cold waters rise from the canyons and other offshore areas bringing excess carbon dioxide produced by human activities to coastal waters. Culturally, ecologically, and commercially important marine species, like Dungeness crab, and the food-webs they are a part of may be challenged by these waters high in carbon dioxide. The unmanned vehicles operated by the E/V Nautilus team provide a rare opportunity to sample layers of the seafloor. Their observations will give insights into the environment organisms experienced in the past and how that compares to the conditions found along the Olympic Coast today.

Olympic Coast ocean waters are projected to acidify rapidly in the future, crossing chemical thresholds known to affect the regions’ marine species. Putting these projected changes into a historical context is key to getting a sense of how this marine ecosystem will respond to changes in ocean chemistry. Were species affected with past changes? Did they persist and adapt? Looking back in time provides a foundation to better understand how this marine ecosystem and the communities that are tied to it could adapt.

The Olympic Coast is a sentinel of change for ocean acidification. In this special place, researchers are working year-round to understand the physical, chemical and biological impacts of ocean acidification. Managers are using this understanding to inform and enhance efforts to sustain and utilize resources vital to the communities that call this place home. Collaborative research and monitoring efforts are being integrated with education and outreach to define adaptive management tools that Olympic Coast communities can use to face ocean acidification head-on.

You can see what secrets scientists onboard uncover by joining the expedition on its 24/7 live stream and sending questions to explorers aboard Nautilus by tuning into NautilusLive.org!

Learn more about the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary here!

Credits:

Image credits: NOAA Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

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