Workshop focuses on combatting ocean acidification

Growing concern over the impact of ocean acidification on the far north attracted researchers, conservationists and others to the Alaska Ocean Acidification State of the Science Workshop in Anchorage Nov. 30 through Dec. 1.

The two-day session focused on updating participants in the latest research on ocean acidification and techniques and tools for communicating about ocean acidification with diverse audiences, to encourage citizens to take action, locally and nationally, and to engage in local stewardship projects to help mitigate ocean acidification.

“At least we know what we don’t know at this point,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA”s arctic research program in Silver Spring, Maryland, and an affiliate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Marine Science.

His current research is focused on constraining carbon dioxide fluxes and ocean acidification in coastal regions, particularly at high latitudes.

“What we are starting to do, even though it may be a bit premature, is ocean acidification adaptation strategies,” Mathis told the workshop participants.

“There isn’t going to be one magic bullet. I don’t have the answer. We don’t know how we are going to adapt.”

Mathis said he has recommended to the Arctic Council engagement in enhanced research and monitoring efforts to expand understanding of acidification processes and their effects on marine ecosystems and northern society that depend on those ecosystems. He has also urged member states to implement adaptation strategies to address all aspects of Arctic change, including ocean acidification, tailored to local and societal needs, and developing individual strategies that will allow communities to be successful in the future.

There are three options, he said. “We can mitigate, we can adapt, or we can suffer. “We can do something now or deal with the consequences later on.”

While Southeast and Southwest Alaska are most vulnerable, the whole state will be affected by ocean acidification, he said.

The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network, a partnership of more than a dozen commercial harvesters, scientific groups, state, federal and tribal entities, notes that scientists estimate that the ocean today is 30 percent more acidic than it was 300 years ago, due to increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from humans.

Higher acidity affects the ability of shell-building organisms to develop and maintain their shells,  the AOOS network notes. Since the most susceptible species often constitute  the basis of the food chain, researchers expect the effects of ocean acidification to be felt throughout the ecosystem.

This could, says the AOOS, dramatically affect the lives and livelihoods of Alaskans, including the $5.8 billion Alaska seafood industry. Temperatures and circulation patterns in the waters off the Alaska coast make Alaska predisposed to ocean acidification.