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Changing Chesapeake Bay acidity impacting oyster shell growth
Date:6/10/2010

shell formation to temperature, salinity, and acidity highlights the need to understand how the entire ecosystem is changing, not just acidity."

The scientists attribute the observed spatial variation in acidity to changes in the base of the food web in the upper Chesapeake Bay. Inputs of nutrients from sewage systems and agriculture promote increased phytoplankton populations in the upper Bay. As these plants grow they absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the water column, thereby making waters in that region less acidic. As these phytoplankton are carried toward the ocean by the Bay's currents, they are consumed by animals and bacteria. The respiration of this phytoplankton organic material results in the release of the same carbon dioxide taken up by the phytoplankton, which remains dissolved in the water making it significantly more acidic.

"Carbon dioxide is a weak acid and whether it is produced by fossil fuel combustion or enhanced phytoplankton growth and decay, the resulting acidic conditions have the same negative effect on shell forming animals, such as oysters and corals," notes Dr. Waldbusser.

"Decreasing acidity in the low salinity waters and increasing acidity in the higher salinity waters of the Bay highlights natural variations that have not typically been considered with respect to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem" added Waldbusser. "While these variations in acidity may improve conditions for shellfish in some areas, they may also magnify detrimental impacts in others. What our study indicates is there may be an important shifting baseline and without better measurements we will fail to fully understand impacts on estuarine biota."

However, Dr. Waldbusser cautioned that the long term baseline trends they found in archived Bay Program data sets are just the first step towards understanding acidity changes in Chesapeake Bay due to limitations of traditional pH measure
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Contact: Christopher Conner
cconner@umces.edu
443-496-0095
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Source:Eurekalert  

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