July 25, 2013 | KCTS9
The shellfish industry, which injects about $111 million each year into the Pacific Northwest’s economy, is particularly at risk from the threat of ocean acidification. | credit: Katie Campbell |
SEATTLE — On Monday scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will begin a one-month U.S. West Coast expedition to investigate ocean acidification, an issue that poses a serious threat to the Pacific Northwest’s shellfish industry.
“We will for the first time not only study the chemistry of acidification, but also study the biological impacts on the marine ecosystems in the open ocean,” says Richard A. Feely, a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Research Laboratory in Seattle. Feely is co-chief of the mission.
Over the past 30 years, oceanographers like Feely have found that the burning of fossil fuels has released about 2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. About a quarter of that has been absorbed by the oceans, Feely says. Carbon dioxide reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid and that acid can corrode the shells of calcifying organisms including oysters and clams.
This upcoming expedition follows the same path taken during a similar survey in 2007, stretching from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. That earlier expedition was the first survey to show that the West Coast of North America is a hot spot for ocean acidification.