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Environment

Washington Ocean Acidification Center coordinates research and policymaking for the urgent ocean issues

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Environ beat

Human activities that emit carbon dioxide produce two consequences: warming in the atmosphere and acidification in the ocean. 

Ocean acidification, known as the evil twin of climate change, has been receiving global attention in recent years because of its heavy impact on marine life and the shellfish industry.

To study ocean acidification and better monitor seawater, the Washington Ocean Acidification Center was funded and established by the state Legislature at the University of Washington. Led by UW scientists Terrie Klinger and Jan Newton, the center coordinates research, returns research findings to policymakers, and makes such information available to the general public. 

“Most of our funding comes from the state Legislature,” Terrie Klinger, a professor from the UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, said. “We help to determine how those state funds are best used to support research. It is all in the public interest.”  

In 2006, researchers found that oysters were experiencing a high mortality rate in Washington's Willapa Bay. The low pH prevents baby oysters from building shells and surviving to adulthood. Such incidents are not rare and they threaten the livelihood of shellfish farmers.

According to Klinger, the center conducts research in collaboration with scientists from the UW, Western Washington University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The center has three major tasks: monitoring carbon variables in the ocean water, building forecast models for the public, and investigating biological responses toward ocean acidification. As Klinger mentions, the general public can access forecasts for water conditions influenced by ocean acidification through LiveOcean

“Several years ago, we started to study bivalves and marine snails,” Klinger said. “Now we have researchers working on the responses of salmon to ocean acidification. [It is suggested that] ocean acidification affects their sensory ability. We are also looking at how embryos of forage fish respond to the change.”

Evidence suggests the decreasing pH also encourages algae blooms. The center is looking forward to studying the connection between ocean acidification and harmful algal blooms in Washington state.

Klinger pointed out that since Washington state heavily depends on marine resources from both economic and cultural perspectives, the region needs to understand ocean acidification.

“Washington state is the first state in the U.S. to devote substantial state funding to the study of ocean acidification,” Klinger said. “It is challenging to get the public to really understand all the different consequences of having carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We need to understand the consequences of our choices on transportation and lifestyle. In this way, we can make more informed choices in daily life.” 

Reach reporter Sunny Wang at science@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @sunnyqwang64 

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