July 12, 2010 – Original Source: Seattle Pi
The acidity has risen so much in parts of Puget Sound that it has become lethal to shellfish larvae, report scientists from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington.
Much of the acidification — an estimated 24-49 percent — is the result of the ocean absorbing increased carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide is coming from such sources as industrial emissions and car exhaust.
Most of the ocean has changed (the pH has decreased from a preindustrial 8.2 to 8.1, a 30 percent increase in acidity), and in spots such as Puget Sound the general increase in acidity combines with natural processes to create areas with more extreme conditions, particularly under the ocean.
The scientists found pHs of 7.4 in parts of southern Hood Canal and 7.7 in the main basin, said Richard Feely, director of the Ocean Acidification Program at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Laboratory. (pH levels are used to measure the acidity levels of water. The lower the level, the more acidic the water.)
“These pHs were not expected, and they were certainly lower than anything we have seen in the open ocean, and they are certainly corrosive.”
Shellfish farmers have noticed for several years that shellfish larvae, which float in the water column, were often failing to develop to the point that they would settle.
Oysters in particular are in decline.
Bill Dewey, spokesman for the Taylor Shellfish Farms, said shellfish farmers have noticed a decline in oysters seeding in Willapa Bay for five years. Taylor Shellfish Farms has had trouble at its hatchery on Hood Canal for three or four years. Along with shellfish larvae, high acidity also kills a variety of microscopic plankton that forms the basis for the food chain that ultimately feeds salmon and other wildlife. The scientists forecast that as people continue to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, the impact on Puget Sound should increase. By the end of the centrury, 49 to 82 percent of the increased acidity in the Sound could be because of increased carbon dioxide.
About one third of the carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere ends up in the ocean, where it dissolves as a mild acid. As the amount of acid increases, it corrodes the shells of shell-forming animals, weakening or killing them.
This week NOAA and the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory will launch a buoy 15 miles of the coast near La Push and equip it with instruments to monitor the weather, the atmosphere, the water chemistry and plankton growth. They will also launch a Seaglider– a remote-controlled submarine small enough to fit in a bathtub — will travel through nearby waters, taking similar measurements and tracking salmon migration.
Jan Newton, a physical oceanographer at the University of Washington who was a co-author on the pH study for Puget Sound is the lead scientist for the project. She said the equipment will be the most sophisticated array of instruments ever put into Washington waters.
They funded the instruments using about $500,000 from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The university provided another $200,000.
The Quileute Tribe had a contest to name the buoy and ended up with Cha ba (pronounced chay buh), and meaning “whale tail.”
Quileute Tribal Council Chairwoman Anna Rose Counsell-Geyer said tribal members chose the name because the yellow buoy that people will see will be a small part of the array, which includes instruments well under the surface.
The data from the buoy are fundamentally important to tribal members, Counsell- Geyer said.
“Salmon is our livelihood. Shellfish is our livelihood.”
The data will be available on the Internet and could allow shellfish farmers to forecast when acidity is likely to spike in the currents that go by their farms.
Shellfish farmers can work around the low pH in hatcheries. Feely said that farmers on the East Coast have had success lowering acidity by pushing water through ground up shells. Farmers have also been upgrading their ability to monitor changes in water chemistry.
Taylor Shellfish Farms increasingly relies on its hatchery in Kona, Hawaii, where the pH is reliably higher. But many shellfish producers don’t have hatcheries.
“A big part of the industry relies of natural seeding,” Dewey said.
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks. D-Bremerton, said the impacts of acidic waters on shellfish and salmon were worrying and that he supported efforts to fight climate change.
“I think it’s one of the most serious issues of our time.”
Pacific Science Center has also joined the effort to monitor the effects of increasing carbon dioxide. Scientists from NOAA installed a carbon dioxide sensor at the top of the Space Needle, which links to an interactive display at the Pacific Science Center.
Christopher Sabine, supervisory oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, said the instrument was sensitive enough to show how carbon dioxide rises during morning and afternoon rushhours. At its worst, such as during last week’s heat wave, the carbon dioxide level has been 20 percent higher than the levels NOAA typically finds off the Washington coast.