Ocean acidification: a problem up the coast, too

Crosscut archive image.

Resurrection Bay in Alaska.

A recently published study shows Alaska’s shellfish industry faces the same ocean acidification troubles as Washington’s harvesters. And extrapolating from the study’s results, it's possible the waters outside an Alaskan research facility could become too acidic by 2040 to grow shellfish, said one of the study’s authors.

These findings highlight that Washington’s shellfish industry is not the only one being damaged by ocean acidification. Due to rising levels of sea water acidity, tiny oyster shells in Washington's Dabob Bay and in Oregon's Netarts Bay are crumbling faster than they can grow back. That is endangering the Northwest's $270 million shellfish industry.

Ocean acidification has been linked to increased greenhouses gases in the atmosphere. That is one of the cited motives behind Governor Jay Inslee’s largely unsuccessful push to trim carbon emissions in Washington, pushing for a carbon tax to encourage polluters to decrease their emissions. Senate Republicans opposed these proposals, and they did not make it to the final budget.

In Alaska, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oregon State University monitored the ocean's acidic-ness near Resurrection Bay, the site of Alaska’s only shellfish research facility, starting in October 2012. This month, a peer-reviewed article on the study’s results was published in the online science journal of the Public Library of Science. The study looked at the acidic levels in Resurrection Bay from October 2012 to August 2103, concluding that the best window for using that water to grow baby shellfish is from May through October. There are indications this five-month window at could shrink and be gone by 2040, said Wiley Evans, a research associate on the project.

While Washington and Alaska both face ocean acidification levels that threaten shellfish, the two states have different oceanographic conditions that will also need to be factored into future studies, Evans said. That includes trying to get a better handle on the sources of that increased acidity in Alaskan waters, he said. Alaska’s carbon emissions are not on the scale of Washington’s air pollution.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8