A continental-scale chemical survey in the waters of the eastern U.S. and Gulf of Mexico is helping researchers determine how distinct bodies of water will resist changes in acidity. The study, which measures varying levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other forms of carbon in the ocean, was conducted by scientists from 11 institutions across the U.S. and was published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography.
"Before now, we haven't had a very clear picture of acidification status on the east coast of the U.S.," says Zhaohui 'Aleck' Wang, the study's lead author and a chemical oceanographer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). "It's important that we start to understand it, because increase in ocean acidity could deeply affect marine life along the coast and has important implications for people who rely on aquaculture and fisheries both commercially and recreationally."
Coastal ocean acidification, Wang says, can occur when excess carbon dioxide is absorbed by, flushed into or generated in coastal waters, setting off a chain of chemical reactions that lowers the water's pH, making it more acidic. The process disproportionately affects species like oysters, snails, pteropods, and coral, since those organisms cannot effectively form shells in a more acidic environment.
According to the survey, says Wang, different regions of coastal ocean will respond to an influx of CO2 in different ways. "If you put the same amount of CO2 into both the Gulf of Maine and the Gulf of Mexico right now, the ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine would probably feel the effects more dramatically," he says. "Acidity is already relatively high in that region, and the saturation of calcium carbonatethe mineral that many organisms need to make shellsis particularly low. It's not a great situation."
Excess CO2 can enter coastal waters from a variety of different sources, Wang says. One large source is carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, wh
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution