Increased ocean acidification in Alaska waters may damage marine life

Posted By: Staff
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Washington, August 14 (ANI): New findings indicate that Alaska's oceans are becoming increasingly acidic, which could damage the region's king crab and salmon fisheries.

Jeremy Mathis, a University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist, made the finding.

This spring, Mathis returned from a cruise armed with seawater samples collected from the depths of the Gulf of Alaska.

When he tested the samples' acidity in his lab, the results were higher than expected.

They show that ocean acidification is likely more severe and is happening more rapidly in Alaska than in tropical waters.

The results also matched his recent findings in the Chukchi and Bering Seas.

"It seems like everywhere we look in Alaska's coastal oceans, we see signs of increased ocean acidification," said Mathis.

Often referred to as the "sister problem to climate change," ocean acidification is a term to describe increasing acidity in the world's oceans. The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air.

As the ocean absorbs more CO2, seawater becomes more acidic. Scientists estimate that the ocean is 25 percent more acidic today than it was 300 years ago.

"The increasing acidification of Alaska waters could have a destructive effect on all of our commercial fisheries. This is a problem that we have to think about in terms of the next decade instead of the next century," said Mathis.

The ocean contains minerals that organisms like oysters and crabs use to build their shells.

Ocean acidification makes it more difficult to build shells, and in some cases the water can become acidic enough to break down existing shells.

Mathis' recent research in the Gulf of Alaska uncovered multiple sites where the concentrations of shell-building minerals were so low that shellfish and other organisms in the region would be unable to build strong shells.

"Early results have shown that when some species of crabs and fish are exposed to more acidic water, certain stress hormones increase and their metabolism slows down. If they are spending energy responding to acidity changes, then that energy is diverted away from growth, foraging and reproduction," said Mathis.

Mathis said that it is still unclear what the full range of effects of ocean acidification will be, but that it is a clear threat to Alaska's commercial fisheries and subsistence communities.

"Ecosystems in Alaska are going to take a hit from ocean acidification. Right now, we don't know how they are going to respond," he added. (ANI)

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