August 8, 2013

Ocean acidification center another example of state leading the nation

News and Information

Washington’s governor and state legislators in the last session created a hub at the University of Washington to coordinate research and monitoring of ocean acidification and its effects on local sea life such as oysters, clams and fish.

Based on what’s learned, the center will marshal efforts to improve the ability to forecast when and where corrosive waters might occur and suggest adaptive strategies to mitigate the effects.

Two barnacle covered oysters in shallow water

E Timmins-Schiffman

A Pacific oyster in Washington waters.

“I don’t know of any other place in the nation where the state legislature has had the foresight to allocate funding to address these questions,” said Terrie Klinger, UW associate professor of marine and environmental affairs, and co-director of the new center with Jan Newton, principal oceanographer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.

The UW, which received $1.8 million in state funding for the center’s first two years, will work with investigators from other universities such as Western Washington University and with agencies, tribes, the shellfish industry and other organizations to address the needs specified by the legislature.

When the ocean absorbs excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere it becomes slightly more acidic and can deprive animals such as oysters, clams and crabs of the building materials for their shells. When such animals encounter carbon dioxide-rich waters, particularly in their earliest stages as larvae and juveniles, it can cause poor development or death.

Washington’s shellfish industry is the nation’s top provider of farmed oysters, clams and mussels and generates $270 million each year while supporting 3,200 direct and indirect jobs. Marine resources in Washington produce additional jobs and income through recreation, tourism and fisheries. Providing information to help sustain these sources of revenue and to maintain healthy ecosystems is an overarching goal of the new center, Klinger said, and the knowledge generated will be made available to scientists, resource managers, decision-makers, industry representatives and the public.

Two opened oysters held with knife

Barbara Kinney

Shucked Olympia oysters.

Clearly, the long-term solution to ocean acidification involves national and international efforts to put less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere so that less is absorbed by the oceans, but a panel appointed by then-governor Chris Gregoire made dozens of recommendations last November concerning things the state might pursue on its own. Gregoire then directed state agencies to take initial steps to address the problem. News reports called it the first state-level action of its kind in the nation.

This year, Gov. Jay Inslee and state legislators reaffirmed the state’s commitment to addressing the issue.

“The center being established at the UW will coordinate scientific research, monitoring and data-sharing. We will work within the region and nationally to avoid redundancies and make the money that’s being invested go as far as possible,” Newton said.

A key first step is to ensure that observations are made in the most efficient and effective way possible, and that these observations can be used to build and improve models, the co-directors said. Newton and Klinger just returned from an international workshop focused on the design of such monitoring networks.

Two hands full of clams

USDA

Ocean acidification robs shellfish such as littleneck clams of the building materials needed for their shells.

The seafood industry is already monitoring acidification conditions at six sites established with initial funding from the federal government. The work at these sites will continue with support from the center.

Other first steps already underway include forming an advisory board and a science advisory team to help guide the center’s activities while continuing to build connections between scientists, managers and policy makers.

A part of the UW’s College of the Environment, the new center will be modeled after the college’s Climate Impacts Group. Led by UW’s Amy Snover, that center compiles climate data for the region and provides businesses, agencies and others with information so they can adapt their operations in the face of changing climate forecasts.

“The Climate Impacts Group has provided an indispensable service to the people of Washington state,” said Lisa Graumlich, dean of the College of the Environment. “We are thrilled to help shepherd a similar service through the Washington Ocean Acidification Center that will ultimately help us better manage our natural resources and safeguard marine ecosystems. It is critically needed.”

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For more information:
Klinger, tklinger@uw.edu
Newton, 206-543-9152, newton@apl.washington.edu

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