The majority of funding for these studies comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Acidification Program.
Scientists have estimated that the ocean today is 25 percent more acidic than it was 300 years ago, mostly due to increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and changes in land use. Studies show that almost half of the carbon dioxide emitted remains in the atmosphere, with the land and ocean absorbing the rest. When the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, its pH balance changes through a process called ocean acidification. Because cold water can absorb more carbon dioxide than warm water, acidification can disproportionately impact coastal regions around Alaska, scientists say.
Project leaders are Jeremy Mathis, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Ocean Acidification Research Center, and supervisory oceanographer of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle; and Wiley Evans, a research associate with the University of Alaska Fairbanks acidification center, in partnership with the Alaska Ocean Observing System.
Mathis and Evans have shown in recent papers that the process of ocean acidification may be worsened around tidewater glaciers due to the freshwater melt plumes that occur in summer or fall.
Mathis notes that glacier melt plumes have some unique chemistry that can exacerbate ocean acidification and impact the environment in Prince William Sound and out into the Gulf of Alaska. The goal, he said, “is to use the latest technology to find out what’s happening, so we can communicate that to Alaska residents and stakeholders.”
The Ocean Acidification Research Center supports five buoys around the state, as well as samplings twice annually in the gulf of Alaska, and development of a Gulf acidification forecast model. Data from the monitoring will be available on two websites, www.sfos.uaf.edu/oarc/, and www.aoos.org.