West Coast Waters Hide Alarming Secret

New study finds startling coastal acidification
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 19, 2019 10:40 AM CST
West Coast Waters Hide Alarming Secret
A fishing boat coming into the harbor at Santa Cruz, Calif.   (Getty Images)

Those majestic West Coast waters? They hold a secret, and some of our most valuable fisheries could hang in the balance. A new study says US Pacific coastal waters are acidifying at twice the global ocean average, posing a major threat to fisheries there, the Sacramento Bee reports. "California coastal waters contain some of our nation's more economically valuable fisheries, including salmon, crabs and shellfish," says the NOAA study. "Yet, these fisheries are also some of the most vulnerable to the potential harmful effects of ocean acidification on marine life." Researchers came to this conclusion by analyzing nearly 2,000 tiny shells resting on the ocean floor—each no bigger than a grain of sand, per the LA Times.

They belong to an animal called the foraminifera and float down to the seafloor every day. Because ocean acidification makes it harder for shellfish to build shells, researchers can estimate the acidity level based on shell thickness. They can also date the shells based on layers of seafloor sediment. Their finding: a 0.21 fall in pH along the West Coast from 1895 to 2000, more than double the estimated 0.1 pH decline in that period for all of the planet's oceans. Why the bad luck? A natural phenomenon drives carbon dioxide-rich waters toward the surface along the West Coast, and carbon dioxide amplifies acidification. "There's no question that the answer is to curb our carbon emissions," says lead study author Emily Osborne. (Meanwhile, Greenland's ice is melting at a rapid rate.)

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