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New study reveals how sensitive US East Coast regions may be to ocean acidification
Date:3/1/2013

ich has been steadily increasing in concentration worldwide for the past hundred and fifty years. The higher those levels of atmospheric CO2 rise, more CO2 gas will be absorbed into seawater by contact, says Wang. Another potential culprit, he notes, is nutrient-rich runoff from land. Rainfall and other surface flows can wash fertilizers and other byproducts of human activities into river systems and ground water, and ultimately, into the coastal ocean, delivering an excess of nutrients and often an explosion of biological activity that can lead to decreased oxygen and increased CO2 and acidity.

"This happens regularly in the Gulf of Mexico," says Wang. "The Mississippi River dumps enormous amounts of nitrogen and other nutrients into the Gulf, which spawns large algal blooms that lead to production of large amount of organic matter. In the process of decomposing the organic matter, the microbes consume oxygen in the water and leave carbon dioxide behind, making the water more acidic. If this process happens in the Gulf of Maine, the ecosystem there may be even more vulnerable since the Gulf of Maine is a semi-enclosed system and it may take longer time for low pH, low oxygen water to disperse."

Wang and his colleagues conducted their fieldwork in 2007 aboard the R/V Ronald H. Brown. Starting in the waters off Galveston, Texas, they worked their way around the Louisiana and west Florida coasts, past the Florida Straight, and up the eastern seaboard, collecting samples along nine different transects that ran from the coast to deep ocean off the shelf break, up to 480km (300 miles) offshore.

During the cruise, the researchers measured seawater samples for total dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), which is made up of a combination of carbonate, bicarbonate, dissolved CO2 and carbonic acid. The team compared this measurement to the water's total alkalinity, a measure of how much base is in a water sample. The ratio of the two is a marker for wat
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