Matthew Alford

Affiliate Principal Oceanographer

OPD Department


Affiliate Professor, Oceanography

Jan Newton

Senior Principal Oceanographer

OPD Department


Affiliate Professor, Oceanography

Ocean Acidification

Washington Ocean Acidification Center
Corrosive Waters

Ocean acidification happens because on land we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That carbon dioxide comes back into the ocean. You have increased CO2 in the water and the water simply becomes more corrosive.

In 2013 the Washington State legislature appropriated $1.8M to establish the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, co-directed by Jan Newton. The mission is to improve forecasts of where and when corrosive waters may occur and to create mitigation strategies.

More About This Research

NANOOS partnerships for assessing ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest

Newton, J., D. Martin, E. Mayorga, A. Devol, R. Feely, S. Alin, B. Dewey, B. Eudeline, A. Barton, and A. Suhbier, "NANOOS partnerships for assessing ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest," Proc. MTS/IEEE Oceans 2012, 14-19 October, Hampton Road, VA, doi:10.1109/OCEANS.2012.6405086, 2012.

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14 Oct 2012

Ocean acidification has serious implications for the economy and ecology of the Pacific Northwest United States. A combination of factors renders the Pacific coast and coastal estuaries particularly vulnerable to acidified water. The Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, NANOOS, the Regional Association of the United States Integrated Ocean Observing System, IOOS, is set up to deliver coastal data to serve the needs and decisions of its region. NANOOS has worked through IOOS with the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program, NOAA PMEL, academic, local, and commercial and tribal shellfish growing partners to provide existing observing assets to accommodate pCO2 and pH sensors, to deliver data streams from these and other providers, including that from sensors in shellfish hatcheries, and to network this capacity regionally and nationally. This increase in data access regarding OA is of value to scientists, managers, educators, and shellfish growers who are especially appreciative of the near real-time readouts of the data, upon which to make hatchery and remote setting decisions. This is a regional example of NANOOS and IOOS contributions to societal impacts from ocean acidification.

The combined effects of ocean acidification, mixing, and respiration on pH and carbonate saturation in an urbanized estuary

Feely, R.A., S.R. Alin, J. Newton, C.L. Sabine, M. Warner, A. Devol, C. Krembs, and C. Maloy, "The combined effects of ocean acidification, mixing, and respiration on pH and carbonate saturation in an urbanized estuary," Estuar. Coast. Shelf Sci., 88, 442-449, doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2010.05.004, 2010.

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15 May 2010

Puget Sound is a large estuary complex in the U.S. Pacific Northwest that is home to a diverse and economically important ecosystem threatened by anthropogenic impacts associated with climate change, urbanization, and ocean acidification. While ocean acidification has been studied in oceanic waters, little is known regarding its status in estuaries. Anthropogenically acidified coastal waters upwelling along the western North American continental margin can enter Puget Sound through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In order to study the combined effects of ocean acidification and other natural and anthropogenic processes on Puget Sound waters, we made the first inorganic carbon measurements in this estuary on two survey cruises in February and August of 2008. Observed pH and aragonite saturation state values in surface and subsurface waters were substantially lower in parts of Puget Sound than would be expected from anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake alone. We estimate that ocean acidification can account for 24–49% of the pH decrease in the deep waters of the Hood Canal sub-basin of Puget Sound relative to estimated pre-industrial values. The remaining change in pH between when seawater enters the sound and when it reaches this deep basin results from remineralization of organic matter due to natural or anthropogenically stimulated respiration processes within Puget Sound. Over time, however, the relative impact of ocean acidification could increase significantly, accounting for 49–82% of the pH decrease in subsurface waters for a doubling of atmospheric CO2. These changes may have profound impacts on the Puget Sound ecosystem over the next several decades. These estimates suggest that the role ocean acidification will play in estuaries may be different from the open ocean.

Ocean acidification center another example of state leading the nation

UW News and Information, Sandra Hines

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.

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8 Aug 2013

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.

"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. (story continues, see link)

Related Research at APL-UW

Senator Maria Cantwell Announces Increase in Ocean Acidification Research Funding

On Earth Day, 22 April, Senator Cantwell was at a Seattle shellfish market to announce the continued funding of research into ocean acidification in Washington State. The previous week a key Senate appropriations subcommittee voted to increase — rather than cut — support for the NOAA Regional Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS), which operate monitoring buoys and sensors in Washington State.

Jan Newton, APL-UW Senior Principal Oceanographer and Executive Director of the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS, the PNW Regional IOOS), was on hand for Senator Cantwell's announcement. She explained the effects of increasingly acidified waters on the ocean ecosystem and described how scientists are working to understand the contributions of natural and anthropogenic processes to acidification on the Washington coast and in the Puget Sound basin.

Cantwell led an effort with 11 other Senators to urge Senate appropriators to restore support for key ocean acidification monitoring programs that were under threat for elimination in the proposed FY2013 budget. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's programs allow shellfish growers to monitor ocean acidity in real time, using data from acidification sensors and buoys. With this information, shellfish farmers can avoid filling tanks with seawater when acidity is too high.