NOAA cruise to study rising levels of acid in Pacific Ocean

NOAA's ship Fairweather

NOAA

NOAA's ship Fairweather will embark on a month long cruise along the west coast to study ocean acidification.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration starts a west coast cruise Monday to study the effects of ocean acidification on sea life.

"We will for the first time not only study the chemistry of acidification, but also study at the same time the biological impact," NOAA scientist Richard Feely said at a press conference Thursday. The month-long voyage will take researchers from the waters of Canada to Mexico.

Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide mixes with sea water to form carbonic acid, a substance that can slowly dissolve the shells of sea animals like oysters, scallops and lobsters.

Oceanographers have noticed that as humans burn fossil fuels, carbon dioxide not only releases into the atmosphere but is also absorbed into the ocean - as much as half a trillion tons over the last three decades.

"The seafood industry has a lot, potentially maybe everything at stake," said Brad Warren, director of Global Ocean Health Partnership and a veteran of the seafood industry.

Shellfish hatcheries are hurt by acidic ocean water because it corrodes the shells of grown marine life and can prevent normal development in young animals as well.

Currently there is little hatchery managers can do to avoid the damage. Warren hopes this new mission will shed light on how the seafood industry can mitigate and adapt to these changes.

Scientists will also examine how changing ocean chemistry is affecting blooms of harmful algae. In lab studies it has been shown that acidic environments may increase the toxicity of certain algal blooms.

The NOAA crew will be traveling aboard a ship dubbed Fairwearther and plan to stop at the San Francisco Exploratorium in mid August to present early findings. The cruise will end in San Diego on August 29th.

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