Piecing together the ocean acidification puzzle along the US West Coast NOAA ocean acidification Program

Emma Hodgson, a Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellow at Simon Fraser University, and her colleagues are making big strides in piecing together the ocean acidification puzzle along the US west coast for those that make decisions around this ocean change. As part of her doctoral research at the University of Washington, Hodgson worked with a team to design modeling tools that create a better picture of ocean acidification impacts on fisheries catches, economies, and communities in this US region.

After years of work the group of modelers, ecologists, and oceanographers can project changes to fisheries catches, and how they will ripple into ports and economies along the US West Coast. There are many pieces to this puzzle; from who’s eating whom in the marine food web, to which species are landed by which vessels. By layering this information atop how various species may respond to acidification – an increase in carbon dioxide and acidity in our ocean – this team can now provide insight into potential impacts on a scale that informs local and regional decisions.

The projected biological and economic impacts of ocean acidification in various ecosystems and ports along the US West Coast. Credit: NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center

“This is a big step,” says Shallin Busch an ecologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Ocean Acidification Program. “We’re getting to a place where we can have multiple lines of evidence to understand what ocean change will bring. Experiments give us an idea of how an individual species will respond, ecosystem models give us a sense of how organisms interact within the food web and their environment, economic models help us translate these results to metrics that matter for human communities, and vulnerability assessments allow us to see what coastal communities have at stake,” Busch says.

“Decision-makers need information that is both timely and at a meaningful geographic scale. This effort moves us closer to being able to provide that” says Hodgson. “Although there is a lot of work that still needs to be done, this kind of project allows us to see potential risks for species and communities along the West Coast. It also lets scientists know how to design our work in ways that are most beneficial to the people who use the information.”

For this integrative, applied research to continue to advance, more work is needed to refine each piece of the puzzle. “To understand how different fisheries are at risk from ocean acidification we need experimental work on different life stages of other economically and ecologically important species,” says Isaac Kaplan of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

This advancement in tools and projections is a big step forward in providing valuable information on how acidification could impact ecosystems and economies. The approach provides a foundation in which new information can be layered in as it becomes available, and is an example for how a synthesis project can develop practical results that communities and resources managers can use to improve their decisions.


Title Image: A view of Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, located north and west of San Francisco Bay, California Credit: National Marine Sanctuaries Image 1: Dungeness crabs caught by fisherman Josh Churchman Credit: Ben Drummond Image 2: Commercial fishermen spend long days fishing for albacore on the fishing boat FV Her Grace, 100 nautical miles west of Astoria Credit: Craig D'Angelo, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Image 3: Shallin Busch, an ecologist with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Ocean Acidification Program at the Mulkilteo Laboratory, where species response experiments take place. Credit: NOAA Image 4: Boats emerge from the fog in Westport, Washington Credit: Craig D'Angelo, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Image 5: Another peak at Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Credit: Matt McIntosh, NOAA

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