Scientists To Gather Data On Alaska’s Kachemak Bay For Ocean Acidification Monitoring

Scott DickersonAP Images

Researchers are preparing to gather the first batch of data from an ocean acidification monitoring system in Alaska’s Kachemak Bay. It is hoped that the system, which was launched in October, will offer some insights on how near-shore environments are affected by the phenomenon.

According to a report from KBBI, the new research is unique, as it focuses primarily on how ocean acidification affects near-shore environments, as opposed to how the process affects actual oceans. The scientists’ data gathering system makes use of five sensors across Kachemak Bay to monitor acidification in the area, and with the first batch of data set to be collected in about two weeks from now, they hope to determine how various organisms in the bay currently react to ocean acidification, and how they may react to the process in the future.

In a statement quoted by KBBI, University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Amanda Kelley explained that Alaska currently does not have any near-shore metrics for ocean acidification, but needs to have such data, in order to protect marine life from the process’ adverse effects. For the meantime, the first main objective is to collect baseline pH data on Kachemak Bay for comparison, and the second is to understand the “variability” faced by animals and microorganisms in the bay.

“If you think about it, many, many important species to this region live in near-shore environments as a nursery or rearing ground. Then organisms like bivalves and shellfish, they don’t typically go out into the open ocean,” Kelley said.

Additionally, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Kasistsna Bay Laboratory director Kris Holdereid told KBBI that the data has the potential to answer questions about how phytoplankton affects ocean acidification levels, a phenomenon that typically happens too fast for researchers to keep tabs on.

“One of the things that people don’t necessarily don’t think about is phytoplankton, the little plants in the water, when they grow, they change the ocean acidification conditions. That’s not something we can get a handle on because it happens very quickly.”

null

As explained on the NOAA website, ocean acidification takes place when carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater, thereby reducing the water’s pH, carbonate ion concentration, and affecting other key metrics. The process could have a positive effect on photosynthetic algae and seagrasses, which both need carbon dioxide for sustenance, but could have a negative, “dramatic” effect on clams, oysters, sea urchins, deep sea and shallow water corals, and other calcifying species.

Although it isn’t unusual for scientific organizations in Alaska to collect ocean acidification statistics, KBBI stressed that Kelley and her fellow researchers’ system stands out because it gathers data every three hours in five separate areas in Kachemak Bay, unlike other measurements, which are manually collected once a month. The fact that the new system uses sensors also makes its data more accurate — KBBI compared the difference between the manual and sensor-generated measurements as being akin to the difference between “an old tube TV [and] the latest high definition flatscreen.”