Introducing the new WOAC website!

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Although the Washington Ocean Acidification Center (WOAC) is based in EarthLab at the University of Washington, it serves the entire state. Since its creation in 2013, WOAC has been charged by the State Legislature to lead the state in priority areas of ocean acidification research.

Thank you to the College of the Environment web team for design and development of this new site. Check back often for news and updates regarding ocean acidification and its impact on our region.

Learn more about WOAC

 


The Olympic Coast as a Sentinel – Tribal Communities at the Forefront of Ocean Change

Indigenous people have depended on Olympic Coast marine species for their livelihoods, food security and cultural practices for thousands of years. Today, these species—and the tribal communities that depend on them—are at risk from ocean acidification. Washington Sea Grant, in partnership with the Olympic Coast Treaty Tribes, federal and academic scientists and coastal managers, is working to understand and plan for the impacts of ocean change to tribal community well-being.

This collaborative investigation and project video were funded by the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (Project #NA17OAR0170166), and is led by Dr. Jan Newton, UW Applied Physics Lab, and Dr. Melissa Poe, Washington Sea Grant. Dr. Newton is also the co-director of the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, a statewide organization that connects researchers, policymakers, industry and others across Washington to advance the science of ocean acidification and provide a foundation for proactive strategies and policies to protect marine ecosystems and the people connected to them.

This beautiful 18-minute film about the Olympic Coast research partnership uses collaborators’ own voices and perspectives on ocean change and tribal resilience to bring the story to life.

This video and article was originally published by Washington Sea Grant.


“The Olympic Coast as a Sentinel: Tribal Communities at the Forefront of Ocean Change” Premiers September 24 at the River & Ocean Film Festival

Trailer for “The Olympic Coast as a Sentinel: Tribal Communities at the Forefront of Ocean Change,” produced by Washington Sea Grant in partnership with Hoh Tribe, Makah Tribe, Quileute Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Olympic National Park, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, UW Applied Physics Lab, UW Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, and University of Connecticut. Jan Newton, co-director of EarthLab member organization Washington Ocean Acidification Center, is affiliated with this film.

The worldwide premier of this film will be held on September 24, 2020 at the Washington Sea Grant’s 7th Annual River and Ocean Film Festival. Registration is encouraged! Register here.

This year, the festival be presented as an online event starting on September 17. Streaming episodes will be posted online for viewing from the comfort of your home, office, or anywhere you happen to be with your favorite internet-connected device. This collection of short films highlight the human and natural dimensions of the West End of the Olympic Peninsula.


Washington leads: connecting ocean acidification research to people who need it most

At the helm of EarthLab’s Washington Ocean Acidification Center are two experienced ocean scientists, but what they are trying to do is something entirely new. Terrie Klinger and Jan Newton are Salish Sea experts – one an ecologist, one an oceanographer – and they are addressing one of the biggest emerging threats to our environment today, ocean acidification.

Jan Newton and Terrie Klinger lead the Washington Ocean Acidification Center.

“When we first were funded by the legislature to stand up the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, there was no precedent. We were starting from zero,” says Klinger. Born from a Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel, the Center was established by the legislature at the University of Washington to make sure actions to combat ocean acidification have a strong backbone in science. Along with colleagues and collaborators, it was up to Klinger and Newton to bring the new Center to life, making sure it serves the needs of Washington citizens.

Ocean acidification is a global phenomenon. Worldwide, the ocean plays an invaluable service to the planet by absorbing nearly 30% of the carbon dioxide produced by human activity. Yet this also drives a series of reactions that change seawater chemistry, and as a result the oceans are becoming more acidified, which poses a suite of problems to some marine organisms.

Ocean Acidification Challenges in Washington

In Washington, ocean acidification’s threat became visible in the state’s extensive shellfish industry. Corrosive seawater compromises the ability of shellfish to form their shells, especially in the animal’s early days. In years where seawater conditions are persistently harsh, shellfish farmers failed to raise any new oysters to marketable size, and livelihoods were at stake.

Answers began surfacing when the Washington Ocean Acidification Center connected with shellfish growers and other partners, helping solve what initially seemed like an intractable problem. Now the industry has new tools to manage corrosive water – like monitoring water conditions at the hatcheries, adding buffering agents to incoming seawater, or tracking forecasts of unfavorable water conditions through LiveOcean. In many cases, these tools have allowed shellfish – and business – to continue thriving.

Over the years, the Center’s approach to research has become even more sophisticated, all while remaining “grounded on the Blue Ribbon Panel recommendations to sustain observations, modeling, and biological experiments relevant to ocean acidification,” says Newton. They now can start telling the much deeper story of how ocean acidification threatens ocean food webs, which underpins the eye-popping amount of wildlife and productivity in Puget Sound.

“We’re trying to use the lens of ocean acidification to help solve bigger problems,” says Klinger. “We’ve really grown over our six years and are moving from just a focus on, let’s say shellfish, to include salmon, forage fish and other parts of our ecosystem that are really important to the region.” Expanding focus matters because it can answer questions at a larger scale, helping decision-makers create conservation strategies that support the tiniest creatures all the way up to the big ones, like the southern resident orca whales.

Asking challenging, big-picture questions has always been a part of the Center’s vision and mission. On the research docket now is an investigation into how ocean acidification affects small schooling fish that feed and fuel so many of the Salish Sea’s iconic residents, like salmon, rockfish and marine mammals. Acidifying waters have already been shown to have adverse effects on a fish called the sandlance on the east coast – a species that is also present in the Salish Sea. There is new evidence that shows how increasingly acidified waters affect the ability of young salmon to detect predators, and concern that it may also affect their ability to make their way back to their natal streams where they eventually reproduce.

Sharing the Science of Ocean Acidification with Society

The Washington Ocean Acidification Center stands as a prime example for how EarthLab and its member organizations approach science’s role in society. Placing people at the center, EarthLab is designed to leverage the intellectual resources at the University of Washington and from community partners to co-produce and deliver science-based solutions to the greatest environmental challenges we face as a society.

New questions to ask, and new capabilities to answer them, emerge as the Center continues to grow, build more partnerships and make inroads with new communities. By listening to people’s needs and leveraging work from other partner institutions – like crab research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, salmon research coming from Washington Sea Grant, and real-time data serving from the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems – the Center is better able to address various needs stemming from many communities.

“I think what’s really lovely about the Center is that it really did originate in the Blue Ribbon Panel, which was comprised of a large and diverse group of people,” says Klinger. “That set the tone for us to build a broad bench of partnerships to work on these projects. When you are trying to do something big, it’s nice to have a lot of minds contributing. And that way, more people feel a better ownership to it as well.”

A local community of practice has developed, with federal, tribal, state, industry and private partners. “We simply could not do this work without this diverse input and expertise,” adds Newton. “And our work here in Washington is well-linked to national and global efforts too.”

Employing cruises and buoys, and working in collaboration with partners, the Center obtains data from Washington waters on water chemistry and plankton, and is investigating new approaches to observing biology in the field. “When we have a multi-year record of what we’re seeing in the environment, we can understand the food web effects much more broadly. We can use the observing data to continue to refine the model and give people information that’s useful for many purposes,” says Newton.

Creating Smarter Data and Valuable Insights

The Center’s history with this region is an asset for decision-makers. Long-term datasets allow scientists to look back in time and discover important environmental trends, which in turn supports policymakers, managers, businesses and NGOs to develop smarter strategies towards sustainability. But if the data don’t exist, then decision-makers are left in the dark.

“The value of the Center just increases over time. Staying the course is really important to get the greatest benefit, and that allows us to build relationships with people, which is really important,” adds Klinger.

Washington’s marine environment connects to people and community in many ways – culturally, economically and scientifically. Having roots in this region, Newton and Klinger want to make sure the Salish Sea continues to be vibrant. “I do this work because I care,” says Newton. “The ocean changes that are happening are large and have potentially big consequences. As I have gained knowledge over my career that can be put towards understanding this better, I think that’s a responsible and important thing to do.”


More about LiveOcean

Parker MacCready is a physical oceanographer who works primarily on estuaries and coastal systems. With funding from the Washington Ocean Acidification Center and Washington Sea Grant, among others, Parker and his colleagues created LiveOcean, a model that predicts when Washington’s waters are particularly corrosive. Using a suite of model inputs – like ocean currents, weather, water temperature and salinity, oxygen levels, and more – LiveOcean issues a three-day forecast of ocean conditions that are useful to numerous communities, including shellfish farmers. By checking the forecast, farmers can decide if the conditions are favorable to set out baby oysters to start growing in the ocean or if they should wait until conditions improve.

Read more about Live Ocean, and listen to a recent interview with MacCready on Coastal Café.


2019 Ocean Acidification Symposium

The Washington Ocean Acidification Center will convene its Third Biennial Science Symposium on Thursday, May 30 at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, WA. This day-long symposium will consist of invited presentations from regional experts. Presentations will focus on new results from research relevant to ocean acidification in Washington waters, including field observations, biological experiments and modeling. Presentations will be followed by plenary discussions and will offer numerous opportunities to enhance communications and strengthen regional communities of practice.

There is no fee to attend, but registration is required.

Please see the draft agenda for the symposium.


‘Underwater forecast’ predicts temperature, acidity and more in Puget Sound

Most of us rely on the weather forecast to choose our outfit or make outdoor plans for the weekend. But conditions underwater can also be useful to know in advance, especially if you’re an oyster farmer, a fisher or even a recreational diver.

A new University of Washington computer model can predict conditions in Puget Sound and off the coast of Washington three days into the future. LiveOcean, completed this past summer, uses marine currents, river discharges and weather above the water to create the forecasts. LiveOcean was originally developed to predict the impacts of more acidic seawater on the local shellfish industry, and has support from the state-funded Washington Ocean Acidification Center, a Member Organization of EarthLab, as a tool for local shellfish growers. This will be the first spring that the tool is available for their use.


Ocean Acidification and Temperature Worsening

Washington Ocean Acidification Center co-director Terrie Klinger talks to King 5’s Alison Morrow about ocean acidification and its effect on our region.


Forecasting corrosive ocean conditions for shellfish growers in Washington

Sorting oysters at an aquaculture facility.

For people who make their living connected to nature, a favorable environment is critical. For farmers, that means having enough rain to bring a crop to harvest. For ski resort operators, that means having enough snow for a robust ski season. For commercial fishermen, that means having seasonal ocean temperatures that favor the fish they need for market.

The same goes for shellfish growers in Washington, who rely on the Northwest’s historically favorable marine waters to help produce delectable invertebrates, like clams and oysters.

But because nature is variable, and because the global ocean’s chemistry is changing from absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide that drives ocean acidification, marine waters along our coast and in Puget Sound are often corrosive and harmful to shellfish. This creates a significant barrier to shellfish growers and the success of their business, especially the production of young oysters in hatcheries. Hatcheries have lost oysters when especially corrosive waters are drawn in from the nearby ocean. Losses in hatchery production can threaten the viability of the industry.

In order for the shellfish industry to respond to this threat, improved information is critical. To address this problem, the Washington Ocean Acidification Center, part of UW EarthLab, has provided resources for monitoring seawater in hatcheries and has developed a tool that provides forecasts of ocean conditions. The tool allows growers to see when conditions are favorable for the tiny oysters and clams, which are especially vulnerable when young. Knowing about corrosive water conditions helps hatchery managers improve production and helps growers choose favorable periods to move the young oysters from the hatchery to the seabed.

“This innovative work results in payoffs to our scientific understanding of ocean acidification in Washington waters and has direct, practical benefits to society as well. By evaluating modeled forecast ocean conditions against data, scientists can continually improve our understanding of processes. Making the forecasts publicly available enables growers to use it much the same as a weather forecast is used, to inform decisions,” said Jan Newton, co-director of the Washington Ocean Acidification Center.

To develop the model, the Washington Ocean Acidification Center worked with a team of scientists, modelers and others to support the adaptation of an existing computer model, LiveOcean. They added ocean properties for the Washington coast and Puget Sound, including ocean chemistry and ocean acidification variables that shellfish growers monitor and use. Parker MacCready, from the University of Washington’s School of Oceanography, led the modeling group and worked with shellfish growers to learn their interests and needs from a model.  The forecasts are available now for the outer coast and will soon be so for Puget Sound, and are available to the public forecasts are available to the public by the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems.

Ocean acidification is a worldwide problem, driven by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is absorbed by the ocean. At times, these waters become harmful to shelled organisms like oysters and some plankton, preventing them from forming or maintaining their shells. Although ocean acidification is a global problem, it is made worse in the Pacific Northwest by local circulation patterns and other factors, such as naturally high organic production. Many partners have come together across the Pacific Northwest to address the problem. For example, the Washington state Marine Resource Advisory Council makes recommendations to the Governor’s office and state legislature to guide responses to ocean acidification. The Washington Ocean Acidification Center and EarthLab are committed to approaches such as this that use emerging science to address societal needs.

 

 


Biological Responses to Ocean Acidification

Understanding the effects of ocean acidification on marine species is essential to promote adaptation that sustains coastal communities, maintain the vitality of the state’s seafood and marine recreation industries, and meet recovery goals for endangered species. Importantly, knowing more about how ocean acidification affects biology provides critical information for natural resource managers and others concerned with ocean acidification impacts.

The Washington Ocean Acidification Center and its partners study the effects of ocean acidification on numerous species that are ecologically and commercially important to the state of Washington. In particular, the Center has conducted laboratory studies on krill, zooplankton, Dungeness crab, Olympia oysters, Coho salmon and sablefish. The results of their work with numerous partners have led to discoveries that shed light on the Salish Sea ecosystem, helping to guide marine resource management. The Center continues to work with the Washington State Legislature, tribal entities, agency partners, stakeholders and others to advance this work.


Predictive Modeling for Corrosive Marine Waters

The marine waters of Washington state can often be corrosive to shelled animals such as clams and oysters, especially when they are very young. Corrosive conditions are driven by natural variability combined with an increase in the acidity of ocean waters. This threatens marine ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest, and poses a significant barrier to shellfish growers and the sustainability of their business. The natural set of young oysters in Washington can be highly variable, and the hatcheries that supply young oysters to growers have lost oysters when especially corrosive waters are drawn in from the nearby ocean.

In order for the shellfish industry to respond to the threats posed by ocean acidification, improved information is critical. The Washington Ocean Acidification Center has provided support for monitoring of seawater conditions around the state and at hatcheries, and has developed a tool that provides forecasts of ocean conditions. The tool shows ocean currents, temperature, salinity and ocean chemistry daily and up to two days in the future, allowing growers to see when conditions will be favorable for their operations. The Washington Ocean Acidification Center has partnered with UW’s Coastal Modeling Group to develop this tool, and current efforts are underway to expand its scope and use.