UCLA earns NOAA grant to study ocean acidification

LOS ANGELES — UCLA is one of three colleges nationwide to be awarded a federal grant to study how ecologically and economically important coastal habitats and marine species are impacted by ocean acidification and predict what portions of the California coast are vulnerable to low oxygen.

The $420,000 grant was awarded to the university by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and would foster collaboration with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, University of Washington and Southern California Coastal Water Research Project.

NOAA also granted Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi ($482,381) and University of Maryland ($435,992) funding to research acidification impacts in Texas estuaries and Chesapeake Bay in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“We need research to understand how and where the ocean chemistry is changing, and how it will affect commercial fisheries species and critical marine habitats,” NOAA Ocean Acidification Program director Libby Jewett. “These new projects expand NOAA’s capacity and efforts to respond to this serious threat.”

NOAA identified ocean acidification as an emerging threat, with the ocean reportedly absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. The Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, or PMEL, has been studying ocean acidification and stated the impacts of increased carbon dioxide in ocean water benefits some elements of marine life but harms others.

“Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) from humankind’s industrial and agricultural activities has increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere,” PMEL stated on its website. “Many scientists focused on the benefits of the ocean removing this greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. “However decades of ocean observations now show that there is also a downside — the CO2 absorbed by the ocean is changing the chemistry of the seawater.”

There is a direct correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and how much of the greenhouse gas is found in the ocean, according to PMEL.

“The ocean absorbs about a quarter of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere every year,” PMEL’s staff stated. “As atmospheric CO2 levels increase, so do the levels in the ocean.”

Carbon dioxide could benefit eelgrass and other photosynthetic algae but harm corals, planktons, oysters and sea urchins, according to PMEL. Planktons and sea and water corals are known to support various habitats, such as flying fish near Catalina Island or spiny lobsters along the Southern California coast.

Funding for the study the impacts of carbon dioxide in the ocean and other waterways was made possible by the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act, which was enacted in 2009.

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