UW Today

August 25, 2011

Ocean acidification science, societal needs meld in new training program

News and Information

Students already knowledgeable about the science behind ocean acidification and warming will learn more about the challenges those ocean changes pose for tribes, shellfish growers and other sectors of society – as well as helping seek solutions ­– under a just-announced National Science Foundation grant of $3 million.

In what is the first Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program organized through the UWs College of the Environment, the money will be used over five years to develop a program for doctoral students focused on societal and environmental issues related to ocean changes.

Its the first such NSF-funded traineeship program in the nation that focuses on ocean acidification, warming and other changes in the ocean, according to Terrie Klinger, a UW associate professor of marine and environmental affairs who leads the program.

Oysters are among the species thought to be negatively impacted by ocean acidification.

Oysters are among the species thought to be negatively impacted by ocean acidification.T Klinger/U of Washington

“Theres been a great deal of attention on potential impacts of climate change but much less on ocean change, although the effects we will have to cope with may be just as large,” Klinger says. “The students we train are inheritors of a changing ocean; its condition and rate of change will determine critical aspects of their future.”

Excess carbon dioxide absorbed into the ocean causes acidification, which not only changes the acidity but, more importantly, changes the chemical mix in the water so that corals, shellfish and other organisms can’t get enough calcium carbonate – or chalk – to build and maintain shells or skeletons. Some think ocean acidification could for example, kill many of the world’s coral reefs by the end of the century.

The traineeship program is meant to help create leaders among doctoral scientists and engineers by helping them understand not only the biological and ecological responses but also the impacts on human institutions and governments, Klinger says.

Units of the College of the Environment involved in developing the program include marine and environmental affairs, oceanography, aquatic and fishery sciences, atmospheric sciences and Friday Harbor Laboratories.

“Our students are facing a job market that expects them to be able to immediately jump into interdisciplinary teams to perform research and solve complex problems,” said Lisa Graumlich, dean of the College of the Environment. “This program will provide them with a competitive advantage as they gain experience in hands-on interdisciplinary teamwork before leaving the university, while addressing the crucial issues surrounding changing ocean conditions, issues we are uniquely equipped to address.”

For more information contact Klinger, 206-685-2499, tklinger@uw.edu, and watch this fall for the launch of a website about the program.