Ocean acidification is a growing environmental concern that can affect marine ecosystems and economies worldwide. Scientists from the College of the Environment and their many partners operate at the leading edge of this developing field, engaging in research to better understand the fundamentals of ocean acidification and help guide actions to minimize its impacts on ecosystems and society.

Nautilus Cross Section

The Issue

Signatures of human activity are being detected in environments and ecosystems the world over. These include the global oceans where a measurable decline in seawater pH—from about 8.2 to 8.1—over the past 200 years has been recorded. It doesn’t sound like much, but because the pH scale is logarithmic—like the earthquake measuring Richter scale—this change represents a nearly 30% increase in the acidity of ocean water.

Driving this change is the fact that the oceans absorb about one-quarter of the CO2 produced by human activities every year, causing chemical reactions that lead to lower pH in seawater. As a result, the availability of a key ion—carbonate—used by animals like corals and shellfish to build their shells and skeletons is reduced.

Read more about the status of ocean acidification in Pacific Northwest waters, developed by the Washington Ocean Acidification Center. In addition, NOAA, Washington Sea Grant, and numerous partner organizations have compiled more general information about ocean acidification, including its causes and consequences.

You can also read more about ocean acidification and marine water quality.

Washington Ocean Acidification Center

In order to foster connections among researchers, policymakers, industry, and others, the Washington Ocean Acidification Center was established in July 2013 under direction from the Washington State Legislature and Governor Inslee.  The establishment of the Center is a result of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification recommendations.

The Center is led by the College of the Environment at the University of Washington and includes faculty and staff from multiple departments and disciplines.  It is modeled after and integrated with the UW’s Climate Impacts Group, a leader in developing and delivering decision-relevant science.  The Center is co-directed by Jan Newton (Applied Physics Laboratory, Oceanography) and Terrie Klinger (Marine and Environmental Affairs).

The Center is charged by the legislature to execute five priority actions:

  • Ensure continued water quality monitoring at the six existing shellfish hatcheries and rearing areas to enable real-time management of hatcheries under changing pH conditions. The monitoring data have enabled hatchery operators to avoid drawing acidic water into the hatcheries and rearing areas. Read more about progress on this priority action.
  • Establish an expanded and sustained ocean acidification monitoring network to measure trends in local acidification conditions and related biological responses. This monitoring will allow detection of local acidification conditions and increase our scientific understanding of local species responses. Read more about progress on this priority action.
  • Establish the ability to make short-term forecasts of corrosive conditions for application to shellfish hatcheries, growing areas, and other areas of concern. A real-time online tool will be developed and accessible to shellfish growers and managers to track acidification on a scale of days to weeks, giving them time to change or adjust their hatcheries’ operation. Read more about progress on this priority action.
  • Conduct laboratory studies to assess the direct causes and effects of ocean acidification, alone and in combination with other stressors, on Washington’s species and ecosystems. The studies will focus on determining the biological responses of species of ecological, economic, and cultural significance, to a full suite of stressors to which they are exposed, and will help estimate the genetic potential of these species to adapt to ocean acidification. Read more about progress on this priority action.
  • Investigate and develop commercial-scale water treatment methods or hatchery designs to protect larvae from corrosive seawater. Scientists from the UW will help shellfish growers assess the effectiveness of the adaptation measures. Read more about progress on this priority action.

The Center will achieve these goals and others by:

  • Bringing a regional focus to research priorities and serving as a regional hub for research endeavors
  • Training the next generation of scientists, managers, and decision-makers to face the challenges posed by ocean acidification
  • Using a distributed network model of organization to join the expertise of UW scientists with that of other regional academic institutions, agencies, and organizations
  • Engaging with industry representatives, state, local, federal, and tribal policy makers, and public opinion makers through specific activities and through the formation of an advisory board and a science advisory team, both of which will be used to help guide the activities of the Center.

Partners and Collaborators

The Center strengthens its work—both in terms of scientific rigor and application to real-world scenarios—through partnerships with federal, tribal, state and local governments, industry, regional colleges and universities, and others. Multiple productive partnerships already exist and many more are emerging.

News and Information

20 Facts About Ocean Acidification (updated November 2013)
Ocean Acidification in the Pacific Northwest
Ocean Acidification Center Another Example of State Leading the Nation
Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification

Contact Us

For any questions about Washington Ocean Acidification Center or ocean acidification in Washington state, please contact Jan Newton (newton@apl.washington.edu) or Terrie Klinger (tklinger@uw.edu). You can also contact the Center directly at woac@uw.edu.