Nina Bednarsek (Southern California Water Project)
Meet Nina Bednarsek
Nina Bednarsek is a scientist with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project who has recently started conducting research in Alaska. She specializes in the development of biologically relevant thresholds for interpreting ocean acidification data.
Q: What element of OA do you work on in Alaska and where?
My involvement with the OA work in Alaska started after receiving a North Pacific Research Board (NPRB) reward to investigate the extent of biological effect due to ocean acidification in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. This reward builds on almost a decade-long research on the impacts of ocean acidification on pteropods (sea butterfly), tiny shelled zooplankton that is a keystone species because it represents an important food diet for Pacific salmon, especially for pink and chum salmon in Alaskan waters.
Q: What drew you to this type of work?
I have started my research in the polar regions off the Antarctic and remained fascinated with this environment ever since. Short food chains in the polar regions are especially vulnerable to climate change and pteropods are one of the best indicator species to study how future food webs will be affected by climate change and acidification. The work I am involved with is important because it stretches all the way to human dimensions, pointing towards the vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies that Alaskan communities will undergo in the near-future.
Q: Recently you’ve been studying pteropods in the Gulf of Alaska. Could you tell us more about it?
My research in the Gulf of Alaska involves analyzing how pteropods respond to ocean acidification, mostly by looking at the extent of pteropod shells to be dissolving under corrosive OA conditions. But my focus is also to try to find genetic evidence of pteropod resilience and determine if there will be enough genetic diversity for pteropods to persist in the Gulf despite progressing ocean acidification. If we know how pteropod will respond in the future, we will have a much better understanding of potential impacts on fish as well.
Q: Why are pteropods important to understand and what have you learned so far?
When exposed to ocean acidification, pteropod shells start to dissolve very quickly, with very characteristic pitting and shell corrosion patterns. From the extent of the observed patterns, it is relatively easy to determine to what level of corrosive conditions they have been exposed to and how this will impact their health and the health of the surrounding ecological community. In that sense, they are one of the most sensitive indicators for ocean acidification we know of so far, allowing us to make solid predictions about their population sustainability in the future and how this will affect salmon that heavily relies on pteropods as a food source. My initial results show that pteropods are especially compromised in the coastal waters in the Western part of Alaska, which is an indication that pteropods have been affected by ocean acidification there already. This is an OA hotspot where we it is expected that OA effects will first take place, so we need to pay particular attention to this region in our future efforts.
Q: If you could relay one piece of information to Alaskans about ocean acidification, what would it be?
Alaskan waters are rapidly changing due to climate change and ocean acidification. Over time it is going to be the effects of multiple stressors, including temperature, acidification and freshening of the coastal waters, that will restructure ocean food webs and fisheries in the future to which Alaskan communities will have to adapt. However, Alaska scientists are strong leaders in the study of the vulnerability of Alaskan fisheries to these stressors. This experience will provide an excellent foundation for future resource-based climate studies, and advice to other high-latitudinal nations with similarly vulnerable resources.
Q: Please tell us about one of your most memorable experiences in the field or in the lab.
I still clearly remember the day in the lab when I started to analyze the samples from the Southern Ocean, only to discover massive pteropod shell dissolution and be completely shocked at the realization that ocean acidification is not something that will happen in the future, but is happening here and now. I got another déjà vu moment when I was analyzing the samples collected along the US West Coast beginning in 2011, and also Alaskan waters. However, given that pteropod shell dissolution was less severe in Alaskan waters than in the other areas studied indicates that the impacted areas to date in Alaska are probably more localized, providing some suitable habitat for the rich Alaskan life now and hopefully in the future.
Lauren Bell (Santa Cruz PhD student)
Meet Lauren Bell
Lauren Bell is a PhD student at University of California Santa Cruz, studying algal communities’ responses to ocean acidification and warming. Originally from Homer, she completed her Masters degree in Sitka through UAF and has served as a research biologist at the Sitka Sound Science Center.
Q: Could you tell us about how you got into the field of ocean acidification?
I suppose my pull towards ocean acidification research began over the course of my master’s degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. At the time my research was focused on marine food webs in the Arctic Ocean. I was always curious about how ocean acidification would impact the rich epibenthic communities I saw on the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea shelves that were often dominated by shell-building organisms. When I moved to Southeast after finishing my degree, I was amazed at how frequently I heard people talking about ocean acidification on the docks and in the coffee shop. It was clear that this was an issue at the forefront of many folks’ minds in Alaska, and there was a general hunger in the community for more locally-relevant information. I decided I needed to figure out how I could contribute.
Q: What motivated your desire to go back to graduate school?
I’d been doing local ecological research with the Sitka Sound Science Center for several years, and in that role I had the opportunity to assist UCSC Professor Dr. Kristy Kroeker with her kelp forest community studies in Sitka Sound for several seasons. I was enthralled by the innovative approaches she was taking to investigate the impacts of global change in coastal systems, and even more so by the multitude of lab and field-based methods she was using to tease different ecological drivers apart. When the prospect of becoming Kristy’s PhD student was put on the table, I saw an opportunity to learn how to link experimental and field studies in order to ask complex questions about coastal ecosystem function in multiple-stressor scenarios. I couldn’t imagine a more timely or relevant addition to my education; it was too good to pass up.
Q: For your PhD you’re focusing on algal response to OA and warming. Could you tell us more about the importance of algae in this setting?
Macroalgae and seagrass beds function as important habitat and food sources to fish and invertebrate species along Alaska’s coastlines. Because these beds can act as localized carbon sinks by drawing down CO2 through photosynthesis, there is broad interest in the possibility that these substrates may provide refuge against low pH for their closely associated communities. However, we are just starting to understand the full suite of physiological responses of high-latitude algae and seagrass species to acidification, especially in concert with other stressors, such as warming. For example, how will the seasonality of algal growth and nutritional content change in future conditions? Will some algal species outcompete others? I hope to investigate how changing oceanic conditions could impact these coastal sources of primary productivity, as well as the bottom-up effects of these changes on higher levels of the marine food web.
Q: What advice would you have for other students getting into the ocean acidification field?
My main advice is to not let the chemistry intimidate you! Acidification has the potential to effect every level of marine communities, from individual species’ physiology to predator-prey interactions to ecosystem functioning. In order to understand the complexities of these layered responses to acidification, we’ll need marine scientists with a diversity of backgrounds and skills to contribute to our growing pool of knowledge. It’s a great field for interdisciplinary collaboration.
Q: What’s your most memorable moment from the field, lab, or classroom?
I had the opportunity to co-mentor two outstanding high school students from Sitka last summer for an ocean acidification internship, alongside my friend and Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Specialist Esther Kennedy. The two students spent the summer learning carbonate chemistry, designing their own dockside study, going out in all kinds of inclement weather to collect water samples, and then working with Esther and me to interpret their data. They then took the initiative to take a week out of school to attend the 2018 Alaska Marine Science Symposium and present their results. I have been beyond impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm of these two young women, who both remain engaged in ocean acidification research. The entire experience of working with them has been memorable for me.
Allison Bidlack (UAS Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center)
Meet Allison Bidlack
Allison Bidlack is the director of the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center at the University of Alaska – Southeast in Juneau. Through her focus on temperate rainforests and carbon cycle dynamics, she has been one of the leading proponents behind using the Alaska State Ferry system to collect OA data.
Q: How did you get into the field of ocean acidification, and what drew you to this type of work?
I actually kind of stumbled into it in the course of my current job. My background is in wildlife and conservation, but my research group now mostly focuses on the ecology of the coastal temperate rainforest margin, and impacts of climate change on that ecosystem. Since OA is one of the manifestations of that change, I’ve had to educate myself about it, which has been a really interesting journey. I’m still learning and certainly don’t consider myself an expert!
Q: Tell us about your project adding sensors to an Alaska state ferry. How did the idea come about and what is it trying to accomplish?
The idea for instrumenting the ferry came out of a series of brainstorming conversations around new and exciting marine research projects we could tackle here in southeast Alaska. This was almost three years ago now. I thought that the Marine Highway ferries would provide a great platform for long-term ocean research, since they run the same routes on a regular basis, and cover much of the coast from Bellingham to Kodiak and the Aleutians, year-round. I also knew that information collected from the ferry routes would be useful not just to scientists interested in the dynamics of ocean acidification, but to shellfish growers and resource managers interested in where the hotspots for OA might be. Of course, I wasn’t the first person to think of this: some of my colleagues had started talking about this years ago, but for some reason that effort never got off the ground. Second time was the charm! I contacted Wiley Evans, who at the time worked for NOAA and is now with the Hakai Institute, and we started hatching a plan to make this happen. We wanted to start by putting instruments on one of the vessels that run the longest routes, so settled on the Columbia, which generally runs from Bellingham to Skagway. Our goal is to use the ferry as a platform to collect continuous surface oceanographic data, such as salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and CO2. This dataset will allow us to quantify spatial and temporal variation in ocean acidification all along the coast. Our hope is that these instruments will remain on the vessel for several years, collecting summer (and potentially year-round) data. And perhaps this can serve as a model for future collaborations with other vessels to increase the coverage of our coast.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you see with this type of project?
The biggest challenges were financial and technical. A project like this can run upwards of a quarter million dollars, by the time you account for the instruments themselves, technician time to install and calibrate them, data management, and the permits, engineering, and shipyard work necessary to complete the project safely. A big thanks goes to Hakai for footing most of the bill, with help from AOOS and ACRC. The technical challenges include drilling a hole through the hull of a 418 foot passenger vessel below waterline to pull in seawater. The Coast Guard tends to raise their eyebrows about those types of things! We also had to run cable through decks and install various components of the system in different places on the ship. All this while the vessel was undergoing other maintenance operations and repairs, so we had to make sure we weren’t interfering too much with their schedule. We worked closely with the Marine Highway, Vigor Shipyard in Portland, and a marine engineering firm to make sure that everything passed muster. Wiley Evans was the hero and the man on the ground making all of this happen. Of course, the Columbia is still in the shipyard, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that she will sail this October, as currently scheduled! Once she’s underway, the challenge will be to maintain the equipment, make sure the instruments are calibrated correctly, and that the data is of high quality. It will be an ongoing labor of love.
Q: Why is understanding ocean acidification important for the Tongass?
The Tongass is part of a much larger coastal ecosystem that stretches from Prince William Sound to northern California. This coastal temperate rainforest is special because of the tight linkages between land and sea, and its vulnerability to climate change. Much of the region lies right at the temperature transition between rain and snow, and we have one of the fastest rates of glacial mass loss on the planet. The forest and wetlands of the region also sequester huge amounts of carbon above and below-ground. The massive amount of precipitation that runs off the land into the ocean, either from streamflow or glacier melt, carries materials like dissolved organic carbon and glacial flour. These materials can have big impacts on the chemistry of freshwater and the ocean, and can exacerbate coastal OA driven by atmospheric exchange. Understanding OA in this part of the world will help us understand the ecosystem impacts of climate change in linked terrestrial and marine habitats, and will help stakeholders make more informed decisions about traditional shellfish harvesting, mariculture and regional fisheries management.
Q: Please tell us about one of your most memorable moments from your time working on OA.
I think my most memorable moment so far has been the day I got the go-ahead from the head of the Alaska Marine Highway to move forward with the ferry project. I was so excited that they were willing to work with us despite their budget and staffing challenges and tight schedules. I’m really grateful to them for being such wonderful partners in this process and I can’t wait to see the first bits of data come through. Then that will be my most memorable moment, after three years of work and waiting!
Mark Casto (Bering Sea crabber)
Meet Mark Casto
Mark Casto has been fishing for crab in the Bering Sea for over 30 years and is the owner and captain of the F/V Pinnacle. The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network is working with crabbers to share information, learn from their observations, and work together to better understand and address ocean acidification.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your story – how did you get into crabbing and what inspires you to keep at it?
My name is Mark Casto and I’m a 2nd generation crab fishermen. I went to Alaska as a young child fishing with my father and loved it…..I was hooked! My father started coming to Alaska around 1962’ish I think. He started at a cannery in Cordova and then went to work on some boats. He bought his own boat soon after that and started Dungeness crab fishing on the Washington coast out of Westport where I grew up. In 1978, he and another fellow built the Westward Wind and started fishing in the Bering sea for king crab, Tanner crab, and later on opilio. I spent my summers in Alaska fishing in Norton Sound for red crab and St. Mathew for blue crab….. I graduated from high school in 1986.
Q: What’s your crabbing season like – which species do you fish for and how long are you out?
A regular crab season starts early October leaving Seattle; fishing starts mid October lasting 1-3 weeks depending catch, amount to catch, weather, etc. From there we move into Bairdi (Tanner) for 10 days to 2 weeks again depending on weather, amount to catch, etc. We’re usually home for the holidays and back up after the new year. We fish opilio until late Feb or mid April – again, depending on weather, amount of catch, and how far we have to travel.
Q: As a crabber, what are your thoughts with respect to climate change and ocean acidification? How do they fit into the mix of other topics crabbers are concerned about or tracking?
I really don’t think ocean acidification is a topic most crabbers have been talking about. As we learn more about it and its effects, we will be talking about it more. Crabbers will talk about it if it’s brought up at meetings and written about in fishing publications.
Q: Are you seeing changes in the Bering Sea with respect to your crab stock?
As a captain in the Bering Sea for 30 years, I’ve seen warm and cold water and weather cycles come and go. The weather cycles seem to be more extreme the last few years… colder cold cycles and warmer warm ones. The last few years we have had to travel farther north for opilio.
Q: What do you think are some of the biggest gaps in our understanding of crab in the face of ocean change?
Some of the biggest gaps are the molting cycles, growth cycles, mating, and crab migration. At the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation we have been doing studies on these gaps in knowledge.
Q: What do you think are some of the strengths crabbers have in regard to being resilient and adapting in a changing world?
Crabbers and fisherman in general are pretty fast at adapting to challenges that they face in the changing world – travel farther, fish deeper, use different equipment, etc. and if need be close a fishery to help it recover.
Q: And finally, what’s a memorable moment from your crabbing career?
My most memorable moment in my fishing career is celebrating my 30th wedding anniversary. It takes a special gal to be married to me or any fisherman in general!!!
Recent Crab & Climate Mini-Symposium: members of the Bering Sea crabbing industry met with researchers to discuss the latest science on ocean acidification and climate as it relates to crab in the region. Learn more
A note about the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation
Mark Casto is one of a few active fishermen who are also board members for the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation (BSFRF). BSFRF is a non-profit research foundation formed in 2003 by the Bering Sea crab industry and its primary work has formed strong collaborations between scientists and industry stakeholders to help improve the science for managing crab. BSFRF has focused substantial research into improvements for both Bering Sea crab surveys and crab assessments (the stock assessment models). One of the more recent priorities for the Foundation is to connect insights from the fishing grounds into research planning for projects to improve understanding of how crab stocks may be responding to changes in the marine environment. As crab research priorities come up in response to changes the fishermen may see first, it’s critical to get their input and insight. As some of these important research topics narrow to more complex issue like ocean acidification, having information from Mark and others like him is very important.
Visit the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation.
Cordova HS National Ocean Science Bowl Team
Meet the Cordova National Ocean Science Bowl Team
Cordova High School’s national ocean science bowl team focused on ocean acidification at the recent statewide competition in February.
Q: We heard you chose ocean acidification as your research topic for the National Ocean Science Bowl (and won “Best Overall Research Project”!) What led you to choose this topic?
The assignment of the research project was to design an ocean observing platform that would address a question or threat to our local community. We knew right away that we wanted to focus on threats to salmon as they are a huge economic and cultural resource in our community. From there it was an easy connection to make with Ocean Acidification and the potential negative impacts it will have on salmon and salmon prey. Ocean Acidification is a widespread and growing issue that not only affects our local community, but everyone and we wanted to address that in our research.
Q: Tell us about the research you did, and how it fits into the NOSB competition.
The Tsunami Bowl, Alaska’s regional competition of NOSB, is unique in that it requires this project (15-page research paper and 15-minute oral presentation). After reading the prompt, we knew that a threat to our fishery would be a huge threat to our community, so that is why we picked Sockeye and Ocean Acidification. We then came up with a question that we wanted to ask about OA and salmon; we landed on, “What are the effects of OA on salmon and their prey species?” So then we needed to design an ocean observing platform that could help us answer this question. We talked about ocean observing platforms, projects, and techniques during team practices and read a lot of information online that led us to Saildrones and moored buoys. Then we turned to primary literature, online resources, videos, and team discussions to decide exactly what we wanted our ocean observing platform to do and what information we wanted to collect.
Q: Did you first learn about ocean acidification in class or elsewhere? What curriculum or techniques helped you understand the concepts?
Some of us heard about OA in classes, one of us learned about it from a community talk, and one of us had never heard about it until joining this team and starting the project. The techniques that helped us understand the concepts also differ, but mostly: team discussions, self-guided research, online videos, drawing pictures and writing out equations, and the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network booklet and webinar we watched.
Q: If you could educate Alaskans about one thing regarding ocean acidification, what would it be and why?
We think it is important to stress the connection between OA and the impact it is going to have on Alaskan fisheries, economy, and people. OA is a huge threat to a lot of species that we all depend on and while most people seem to understand that carbon emissions are part of the problem, they don’t understand the whole picture and the repercussions. We want to stress the link between humans and human actions to what is happening in the world right now.
Q: Tell us about a memorable moment from the Tsunami Bowl (or preparing for it).
There are five of us and we all have different memorable moments! Highlights include: doing the research for this project and writing the paper, learning from other people, finishing the oral presentation at the competition and feeling really confident in how we did, learning so much about the ocean, gaining experience from the competition, our last second (literally) “Hail-Mary” buzzer play that kept us in the competition, and hanging with the “sistahs.”
Read the team’s 15 page award-winner research paper: Effects of Ocean Acidification on Sockeye Salmon.
Jessica Cross (NOAA PMEL)
Meet Jessica Cross
Meet Jessica Cross, a scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Environmental Lab, who works at the cutting edge of research on ocean acidification. Jessica took some time to answer questions about her work, her life as a scientist, and some memorable moments in her career.
Q: What element of ocean acidification do you work on, and where?
I work with the Ocean Acidification Research Center, which operates along the whole Alaskan coast. My specialty is in working with new technology and autonomous systems that help collect different kinds of data. When different tools are used together, we can better look at complex questions and build a better understanding of how OA works in Alaska.
Q: What findings have you been most surprised about?
There are really intense OA hotspots in Alaska, like just south of St. Lawrence Island. Here, the natural carbon system is extremely vulnerable to OA, and even the little bit of new carbon from OA that has already absorbed there has been enough to turn the waters corrosive, and we’ve seen evidence that carbonate minerals may already be dissolving. That’s fast, and intense, and I think it surprised everyone. But, just east of there, south of Nunivak Island, models suggest that the system may be a very resilient, and may not turn corrosive for a long time. We’re still investigating that, but it will be surprising too if the model is right!
Q: What drew you to the topic of OA?
When I was in college, I studied straight chemistry. Most of my friends were on their way to medical school. I never really liked biology or anatomy, but growing up in Florida, I had always been around environmental science, and I loved the ocean. I worked an internship at the University of Miami where I met some other ocean acidification researchers, and I was hooked from day 1. I love knowing that the work I do is part of an important process that is actively happening, and that by studying this process I have the opportunity to help real people in real communities. I get to make a difference, and that is my favorite part of my job.
Q: What’s the most exciting part about your job?
The community that I work with has been studying research in Alaska for almost ten years now, which is really cool. What this means is that we have good, long time series data in the Gulf of Alaska, and we are starting to be able to identify trends. The other thing is that I have watched as the community has developed new technologies to more efficiently and cost-effectively measure OA, and now that’s my primary job– to find and use new tools to do my job better. It’s really exciting to me to see how far we have come, and how fast we are moving into the future!
Q: What is a really memorable moment from the field or in the lab?
One of the BEST things about being at sea is usually that there are all kinds of scientists on board– chemists, biologists, physicists… and people of all levels, new scientist and seasoned experts. This helps everyone learn together, as everyone has a slightly different perspective, and together, we study the whole ecosystem, from physics to plankton to whales. I love it. But… old salts do tend to play tricks on new sailors.
One year, one a big multidisciplinary cruise, there was had an ecologist and bird watcher on board that wasn’t as familiar with other kinds Alaskan wildlife. At dinner one day, the ecologist pointed out my brand new UAF sweatshirt, which had the Nanook mascot on the front. “What is a Nanook, anyway?” he asked.
Actually, I had wondered the same thing when I first moved to Alaska. A Senior Researcher had told me, quite confidently, that a Nanook was a mini polar bear. This, of course, is the opposite of true: Nanooks are supposed to be Kings of the Polar Bears. But I was new, and I didn’t get the joke. So, months later, here I am repeating this to an ecologist– that a Nanook is a mini polar bear!
I was so serious that the ecologist almost believed me– after all, I believed it myself. But he knew enough to look it up, and of course ‘caught’ me trying to play this ‘prank’ on him. I never admitted that the prank had been on me. The ecologist was so impressed with my (accidental) poker face that we played this Mini Polar Bear Nanook prank together on a couple more people by the end of the cruise. All in good fun though, and everyone learned about Nanooks in the end!
I have many, many more days of sea time at this point. I have crossed three major ocean lines of demarcation. I have even lead my own expeditions, in three countries, and two hemispheres. But I don’t think I will ever call myself an ‘Old Salt’ — not until the day that I get that Senior Researcher back. Hey, by the way… have you ever heard of Mini Mammoths?
Dimond HS National Ocean Science Bowl team
Meet the Dimond HS National Ocean Science Bowl Team
Dimond HS wins Tsunami Bowl with ocean acidification research paper
Ocean acidification was the buzz at this year’s National Ocean Science Bowl. Alaska’s regional competition is called the Tsunami Bowl, and high school students from across the state compete with a QuizBowl and a research project. This year’s “Best Research Project” went to the team from Dimond High who focused on ocean acidification. The Alaska OA Network caught up with the team before the competition in March.
Q: We heard you chose ocean acidification as your research topic for the National Ocean Science Bowl. What led you to choose this topic?
Our decision-making process basically consists of whatever will interest us. This year we wanted to talk about something newer in ocean science. In the past we’ve written about receding sea ice and microplastics, and we’ve thought about doing a report on ocean acidification almost every year, but shied away from it because it never perfectly fit the prompt. This year, however, the prompt was basically made for us to talk about ocean acidification. This was our research question: How have anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions influenced Arctic and/or subarctic oceanic processes?
Q: Tell us about the research you did, and how it fits into the NOSB competition.
Usually we start off our research by using NOAA websites or other websites from scientific organizations. These are usually easier to understand and help the entire team get the basic concepts, and sometimes they cite really helpful research reports that we can use later. This year, we were able to interview Claudine Hauri, an assistant research professor at UAF, before writing our paper. This gave us really good insight into some of the historical data we should look at and certain topics to dig into. Talking to a professional before writing the paper was one of the most insightful parts of the research process. Then we use Google Scholar to look up specific reports on each of our individual sections; a lot of the research we did this year had to do with chemical/biological processes, methods of sampling, economic consequences, and modeling. A couple examples of the reports we read were the hindcast model in Hauri et al., 2020, the risk assessment for the fisheries sector in Mathis et al., 2015, and websites from the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network or NOAA.
The NOSB competition is literally all of ocean science, and we’re not exaggerating! So all of the background information we learned while researching is going to tie into the competition, simply because of how all-encompassing NOSB is. This year the focus is the polar seas, specifically the Arctic and sub-arctic. Ocean acidification is much less studied in the far north compared to other areas, so it was interesting to look at for this year’s topic.
Q: Did you first learn about ocean acidification in class or elsewhere? What curriculum or techniques helped you understand the concepts?
Most of our team first learned about OA through AP Environmental Science. The best website we’ve found is from the Smithsonian Ocean Portal and the NOAA ocean website are very intuitive and easy to understand (before reading professional research reports). In the end, writing out an entire report really helps you understand each aspect of the topic, although, the three years of high school science education kind of helps in it of itself.
Q: If you could educate Alaskans about one thing regarding ocean acidification, what would it be and why?
We actually wrote a little bit about the perceptions of Alaskan on OA in our report! It seems like a good portion of Alaskans know that OA exists and that we should be at least mildly concerned about it. However, we think people should really be educated on how Alaska’s waters are disproportionately affected compared to the lower 48, and how detrimental OA can be for a big portion of our economy and jobs: fisheries. OA isn’t just a problem for people looking to preserve nature, it’s a problem for everyone who relies on Alaska’s seas whether that’s for income or diet. We also don’t think people realize how rural communities are disproportionately affected by ocean acidification and how this can truly impact their subsistence lifestyles in the future.
Q: Tell us about a memorable moment preparing for the Tsunami Bowl.
There’s too many memorable moments from NOSB to choose from! Something we will all remember is the marathon paper-writing that happens at the end of the semester. Normally, papers are due right after finals, so a lot of the nit-picking and final touches on the paper are put off to the last minute. We kid you not, our entire team spends the Friday after finals at school when the only other people there are the janitors and sometimes some other teachers. One year, the janitor kept checking on us because he wanted to leave. There’s sometimes crying and we always order pizza. It’s a combination of stress and adrenaline, and spending 12 hours with your team just makes it fun somehow! Honestly every aspect of NOSB is memorable. Driving down to Seward for two hours (for those of us who live in Anchorage) allows us to really get to know our coaches and teammates. It’s also very eye-opening and fun to meet kids from all over the state, go to the big dinner at the Alaska Sealife Center, attend the field trips, participate in speed mentoring and get advice from professionals, and last year, we had a NSOB dance (which my team affectionately refers to as the nerd dance).
Switgard Duesterloh (NOAA Kodiak Lab)
Meet Switgard Duesterloh
Switgard Duesterloh is a scientist and marine educator in Kodiak who connects kids with science, including ocean acidification.
Q: Please tell us a little about your background, and how you got involved in marine education and ocean acidification.
I grew up away from the ocean in a town in Germany. My first memory of getting hooked on the wonders of the marine world are of a TV show that featured Hans Hass and Jacques Cousteau diving with what we would now consider ancient scuba gear. These were the first pioneer explorers into an unknown realm of ocean life, and it fascinated me in a way that planted the idea that I wanted to become a marine biologist. Lucky for me, I had all the support from my family that was needed, and opportunities presented themselves throughout the years with unforgettable experiences of my own: Diving in the North and Mediterranean Seas, working as a student on research vessels from the Greenland Sea to the Bay of Biscay, and getting a chance to take a submarine dive in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
Feeling a deep connection and sense of wonder for the ocean realm is what made me study and explore, but also get involved in ocean conservation issues. I first came to Alaska to do my PhD work on toxicology in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. When climate change began to emerge as a topic, I quickly understood it would shape our lifetime and future, and I became more aware of the need for interdisciplinary research and an overall view of ecosystem responses.
At that time in my life, I had married an Alaskan fisherman and was juggling work and being a mom. When my son was in school, I found that teachers were asking me to come and do science in the classrooms. I soon noticed that while we have many scientists in Kodiak willing to share their love of marine science with kids, there was a disconnect between the school system and the science community and there was a niche for someone to step in and create a structure to better connect the two.
Q: Can you tell us about the program you started with the schools?
In 2008 I started the Ocean Science Discovery Program to bring marine science into the schools. The program grew over the next few years to provide a grade level specific marine science unit to all students in the Kodiak town 3rd-8th grade classes. Elementary units filled one morning, in which students came to the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center to experience hands-on units with live animals. Middle school units were taught over one week in the classrooms, and materials and animals were transported to the school. In addition, there were at various times rural school programs, after school programs, Marine Science week programs, science camps, art programs, and for 7 years I coached the Kodiak High School Tsunami Bowl (marine science competition) team. The Ocean Science Discovery Program was very well received by teachers, because each unit was designed to fit into grade level science standards, and students and parents just loved the direct exposure to the animals in the setting of a real research facility.
Q: Over the years, you’ve come up with hands-on ideas for teaching ocean acidification to kids. Can you tell us a little more about your approach and what you did with the kids in Kodiak?
Since I started the Ocean Science Discovery Program one of the instrumental supporters of the effort has been Dr. Foy, director of the Kodiak Laboratory of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. For a couple of years in the beginning I split my time between contracting for the laboratory and running the education program. Because my contract work was in ocean acidification research and because of the importance of that research to the Kodiak community I felt it was essential that students graduating from school in Kodiak should be knowledgeable to talk about and understand the issues and causes of ocean acidification. Over the years I have tried a few ambitious research projects with students, and while I do think that those students walked away with valuable experiences and an understanding of the issues, mainstream science teaching in school requires very clear-cut results, easy to interpret, with visible effects in a matter of days. We need to distinguish here between learning science and conducting original research. The latter is poorly placed in a classroom for reasons I could discuss at length with anyone interested in having lunch with me
Q: We heard the kids were working with sea urchins. Tell us more about that.
With a good chunk of time and access to a state-of-the-art ocean acidification research lab, rearing sea urchin larvae in acidified seawater at various pH is a project that can be done with a given group of students. This kind of project fits the requirements of project-based learning. However, on a larger scale when teaching multiple classes, I prefer a structured lesson with small experiments and atomic model sets to assist understanding of the main concepts. The concept of pH alone is extremely complex and not easy for middle school students to grasp. When you take a glass of seawater with some bromothymol blue pH indicator and let the students blow bubbles into the water with a straw you are bringing the magic of chemistry to them and have created a chance to link the experience to what is happening in the ocean. I think ocean acidification is not an easy subject to teach, especially for someone who is not immersed in the topic. In other subjects, when topics are too complex to grasp at the first teaching our curriculum allows for a cycle of repetition and adding depth. Unless the science curriculum truly embraces marine science in all grades, the best we can hope for is an exposure to the topic.
Q: What age do you think is appropriate for starting to teach ocean acidification, and what take-homes do you hope the students come away with?
My philosophy is that you should not burden elementary age kids with the world’s problems. At this age you need to engage them in being curious, observing life in its various forms, asking questions, and talking about the “creature super powers”. We only care about what we know, and at this young age the kids need to discover the natural world with its wonders and meet their underwater neighbors up close and personal. The other reason not to teach OA in elementary is that the brain of a young child is mostly bi-modal: Something is good or bad, alive or dead, white or black. If something is a threat to the child, it is the adult’s job to protect the child. Loaded with problems they cannot solve, some kids develop nightmares, which is not what you want.
It is only in 6th and 7th grade, that kids begin to see that an impact can be a concern, even if it doesn’t kill everything. In Middle school it is important to discuss population impacts and delayed effects with students to open their eyes to environmental impacts that are less obvious. Another important message to convey is that all life forms are connected to each other, to the environment, and to us and whenever one is in trouble, it has ripple effects on everything around.
What I do think we should teach in elementary is a first exposure to pH. There are very cool experiments with red cabbage juice that changes color depending on what you add into it. At this stage you should simply introduce the terms acid and base and neutral and let the kids play with creating colors and encourage and summarize observations. I often had to redirect my lessons in Middle School because kids had trouble with the difference between acidity and salinity. Whatever you can do to avoid that you have to introduce the pH scale at the same time you are teaching about OA is great.
Personally, I like to teach the OA “story” in 7th grade (but I have taught it in 6th grade too). The students are old enough to understand and connect the various concepts involved, but are still interested and excitable. To really go into depth on the topic it takes a select group of High School students. I find that if you have High School students who are motivated and crave a challenge, the sky is the limit to what they can accomplish given personal support. However, if you have a class of unmotivated teenagers, you may just find out that we don’t pay High School teachers enough.
Q: Do you have advice for educators teaching about OA?
My advice for educators teaching about OA is to prepare the lesson well and find out what your students have been exposed to. Do they know about climate change in depth or is it just an empty term for them? What role does carbon dioxide play in climate change? What is an acid, what is pH? How does the ocean affect our daily lives? Is the ocean one and the same everywhere; how do scientists define a water mass? Why does OA matter?
Today’s lesson plans allow very limited discussion time. I really think that is a mistake and students need to hone their discussion skills and learn to speak up in a group. Discussion also helps those willing to participate to feel as part of the lesson rather than audience.
If you cannot work directly with a researcher who is actively engaged in ocean acidification research, create a list of questions with your students and find an expert to call. There are many scientists who will be more than happy to get on the phone with you and your class or come in and answer your questions. They can also help you with misconceptions and make that important real-world link. Since you are reading this, you have already found a good site to connect you with OA experts.
Q: Please tell us about one of your favorite moments as a science educator
Two years ago, I developed a project-based learning unit for 6th grade. It covered the spectrum of climate change, introduction to pH and OA including effects on Alaskan marine species. We were spawning sea urchins and the kids decided how to design an experiment to see if pH affected their development. One of the student’s Mom ran a local radio station and came into the classroom to report on the unit. At one point she interviewed a boy and asked if he believed in climate change, because some people did not. His answer came promptly and with gusto: “Some people believe the world is a straight line!” I had to laugh so hard I almost had to leave the class. His response to the reporter made weeks of hard work worth every minute!
Q: We understand the program is no longer funded. What are the plans for the future?
Yes, at the moment the Ocean Science Discovery Program is very scaled back. Funding a program like this is a challenge because it literally operates between the school district and the science community but is not directly integrated in either budget. Over the years, there has always been a creative contract and a lot of support to find ways to keep the program going. Presently, education in Alaska is not well funded and funds are lacking everywhere. I have been able to keep the elementary program running for grades 3-5 this year, but had to scale back everything else. In the meantime, I am contracting for NOAA, working as a chemist in ocean acidification research and learning a great deal.
My plans for the future are to revive, expand and diversify the program. I am seeking partners for a three-pronged approach, which includes the Ocean Science Discovery Program as a school program, a science camp/science week program, which will also be able to travel to other coastal communities, and a Kodiak visitor environmental education program. Rather than dividing myself to develop, teach and administer everything, while changing each program every year, I will direct a program that spans the worlds of professional and personal development for adults with a passion to share, environmental education for kids and visitors, and maintain the Ocean Science Discovery Program as a local science education resource. This larger vision is able to incorporate a variety of grants, and work with people who wish to share their enthusiasm and skill in environmental education without having to commit their life to it. The framework of this business will have a common structure and protocol for all programs, which includes a workshop for the team of educators in conjunction with every science week/camp, a catalog of marine science and art activities to choose from, and a library of activity boxes pre-packed with the materials needed. Many of these activities are already designed and ready, including a week of hands-on ocean acidification learning.
The final component I am still working on is how to culminate each program in the development of societal goals for change, their accountability and their implementation.
Wiley Evans (Hakai Institute)
Meet Wiley Evans
Wiley Evans manages the Hakai Institute’s Ocean Acidification Program, which operates OA monitoring systems in both Alaska and British Columbia. Formerly a member of UAF’s Ocean Acidification Research Center as a post-doc and research scientist, he now maintains the Burke-o-Lator sites in Seward, Ketchikan and Sitka, and is part of a partnership with the Alaska Marine Highway System to install OA monitoring systems on the ferry. Wiley also serves on the Alaska OA Network’s Executive Committee.
Q: What drew you to the study of ocean acidification in Alaska?
My background comprises a focus on sea-air CO2 exchange in coastal settings, and during my PhD I did some work in southeast Alaska. After finishing my degree, I got lucky and landed a postdoc at UAF’s Ocean Acidification Research Center where I began thinking beyond gas exchange to manifestations of OA.
Q: Tell us more about your role – what element do you work on and where?
Part of my training involved building a strong technical toolset for diagnosing and troubleshooting CO2 systems. Over the years, I’ve worked with many different types of CO2 systems, and this has become a central aspect of my work. I’ve since trained my own group to have a similar skill set, and now we maintain all the Burke-o-Lator sites in Alaska, as well as the new Alaska Marine Highway Ferry CO2 system, in partnership with the host organizations and our colleagues. It’s a team effort and we’re grateful to be a part of it.
Q: What are some of the most notable things you’ve learned about OA in Alaska or in general?
In general, the complexity of the processes that shape manifestations of OA in coastal settings continues to intrigue me, and I suspect that will be the case for the rest of my career. With regard to Alaska, there are many aspects of its enormous coastline that captivate my attention, but the influence of glacial melt on CO2 chemistry, specifically with the tendency to drive decoupling from the standard relationships we expect, is an important characteristic that makes the nearshore glaciated regions of this state very unique.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges in your work?
Time. It takes an incredible amount of time and effort to be successful at answering the questions we’re addressing. Long hours plus time away and often at sea in not the greatest of conditions. Yet anyone who does this work, does so because the love it and they’re driven by a host of reasons to succeed. So finding the balance of being highly productive and yet not being consumed by your work can, at times, be a significant challenge. Work/life balance is key and maintaining that is vital for your sanity and the sanity those around you.
Q: What is a really memorable moment from your time in the field or in the lab?
Recently we were coordinating two ships to sample the same hydrographic station simultaneously; the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown and Hakai Institute’s R/V Explorer. The weather was perfect, everyone was very happy as it was the last station of a long and successful field campaign, and right before we started deploying the CTDs, two Canadian Forces F-18 fighter jets dropped down on the horizon and buzzed between both vessels right above the height of the satellite dishes on the Ron Brown. I was on deck and all I could do was raise my arms and yell out a battle cry as the jets shot over. It was a pretty awesome finish to the cruise. Oh, and of course the cruise data were incredible too.
Bob Foy (NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center)
Meet Bob Foy
Bob Foy is the Director of the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center Laboratory in Kodiak. He has spent over 20 years working on marine biological and ecological research, and currently studies the effects of OA on crab.
Q: How did you get into the field of ocean acidification and crab?
Before working with commercial crab species, my research focused on the effects of environmental variability on the physiological processes in fish. In 2007, I was lucky to join an active crab research group starting to discuss ocean acidification in the NOAA Shellfish Assessment Program with a mission to look at the abiotic and biotic factors that influence the management of crab stocks in Alaska. Researchers at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and other large ocean chemistry laboratories were publishing about the increases in anthropogenic CO2 in seawater and the potential effects on shell building organisms. We could see that in order to adequately manage crab stocks, we needed to assess the potential risks of ocean acidification on commercial crab species. We built a research team, a research program, and a CO2 dosing and experimental system in a state of the art seawater laboratory. We continue to work with colleagues at other agency laboratories and universities to broaden the response variables we measure with each experiment.
Q: What are you seeing so far?
Our initial hypotheses were that nearshore, shallower species such as red king crab would be more resilient in their physiological response to increased pCO2 because they live in a more variable environment. We found significant effects of ocean acidification conditions on red king crab such as decreased survival at embryo, larval, and juvenile stages. These effects were scaled to population level effects that may be expected in the absence of acclimation or adaptation. Studies on Tanner crab, another nearshore, shallow water species suggested that the crossover effects of exposure during oocyte development were important to consider and led to decreased survival at later life stages. Recent results from snow crab suggest that ocean acidification conditions may have limited effects on snow crab stocks which is hopeful given the commercial importance of this species.
Q: What are some of the most surprising findings you’ve discovered?
We expected that deeper species (~400 m) such as golden king crab would be resilient to increased pCO2 because deep waters in Alaska are naturally corrosive. Lower survival was found during exposure experiments where treatments included surface ambient pH, possibly providing some clues on the potential for acclimation if crab are exposed at early developmental stages. Another surprising finding has been the dominant effect of lower pH over the saturation state of calcium carbonate. Effects found for many crab species at saturation states above 1 suggest that the stress associated with decreased pH may be more important in king and Tanner crab species. Results from hemocyte and genetic response variables measured by colleagues at the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center and the University of California also suggest that significant energy resources are put into maintaining cellular pH and cuticle (new shell) formation in crab.
Q: What are the challenges of working with crab?
The challenges of working with crab are many. First of all…they like to eat each other. High rates of cannibalism means that samples sizes and experimental designs require additional logistics. Most of the species we study are located hundreds of miles away, even more challenging if you consider the boat ride and numerous plane rides that are necessary before reaching Kodiak Island. Adult female crab are caught in the Bering Sea multiple days from the nearest port, packed in coolers with some wet burlap and ice packs, transported by charter or commercial airlines through Anchorage, and eventually make it to their new home. Sometimes these challenges affect our ability to run experiments or limit our experimental design. Finally, crab have long embryo development periods so assessing complete early life history effects requires multi-year projects.
Q: Based on your research, what would you tell a crab fishermen in the Bering Sea about the future?
Ocean acidification conditions have been shown to negatively affect many species of commercial crab species at various life stages. Initial experimental results and subsequent estimates of population level effects suggest that crab recruitment will eventually decrease. However, laboratory experiments are not adequate for assessing the acclimation or adaptation potential for a species to respond to an environmental stressor that is changing over time. Regardless, as ocean acidification conditions increase in Alaskan waters, crab and other marine species will need to cope physiologically. Fisheries managers will need to consider the effects of ocean acidification as well as other environmental stressors such as increased temperature to sustain fisheries.
Q: Please tell us about a memorable time in the lab or in the field
In our earliest experiments, we had few scientific staff to dedicate to ocean acidification projects and we had not yet developed a flow-through CO2 dosing system. We had a NOAA Hollings undergraduate intern working in the lab to conduct one of our first experiments and she did a great job learning about ocean acidification with us. It was quickly apparent that we were not skilled marine chemists as we tried to stabilize carbonate chemistry inside 100 small beakers. It was also apparent that manually moving 23 L carboys in and out of a walk-in experimental rooms maintained at 6 °C was not going to lead to a long term sustainable program (especially if we wanted to keep students).
James Greely - Tommaso Shellfish
Meet James Greely
James Greely is a shellfish grower and owner of Tommaso Shellfish, a small family owned oyster farm in Sea Otter Sound near Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.
NOTE: The Alaska OA Network is working on a brochure on OA information for shellfish growers, expected June 2023.
Please tell us a little bit about your story – how did you get into shellfish growing?
It started over 10 years ago, with my dad (Jim Sr.) having the opportunity to start an oyster farm from scratch in Southeast Alaska. His family lived and worked around Prince of Wales Island during the late 1960’s/early 70s and he wanted to come back to the area for retirement.
My dad got involved with a program out of Naukati that helped people in Sea Otter Sound get started in the Mariculture industry. It was a program meant to encourage a new sustainable industry in a coastal remote area. Eventually, my dad got me involved and I attended mariculture cultivation workshops put on by various State Departments and organizations.
We started the farm from scratch by navigating through the permitting process, building a float house with locally milled lumber, and purchasing spat from local FLUPSYS in Sea Otter Sound. I learned how to take spat and grow them to a market size oysters. It took us years and a lot of hard work, but we got the farm up and running on our own. My partner, Katie, helps with marketing and daily business operations too. We’re a pretty small farm, and each year is a little different and we have to adapt to the challenges.
What is your favorite part about it?
My favorite part about being an oyster farmer is that it teaches you how to work patiently with nature. You appreciate what these small edible rocks are doing and you see the companionship to nature around the farm. There are aquatic plants/seaweeds growing around the rafts, marine life passing by, and it’s all just tumbling with the tides and working together. It’s a good feeling to have a small part in it.
Where is your farm?
We have a small 4 acre lease tucked in Sea Otter Sound at the North end of Tuxekan Island. We commute from Whale Pass to Naukati where we take a work boat to the farm, usually a twenty min boat ride. Although its fairly protected waters we do have the ability to stay on the farm if the weather changes or situations arise where we would need to spend more time. On a normal day our work commute is about a one hour each way. With our delivery commute to the airport being about two hours. We are still a small scale farm at this point but have been building a solid stock of all sizes and varieties. I’ve found that a small oyster to one person can be a large oyster to another. At this point, we typically purchase anywhere from 100k-250k oyster spat each summer season from a local flupsy located in Sea Otter Sound. During the peak of summer our sales, we typically hit about 500 dozen per week. Most of our customers are local to Southeast Alaska being either restaurants and retail oriented customers to general folks who just want fresh oysters sent their way for the weekend!
When did ocean acidification enter your radar?
About 2014, I started to notice little changes like the softening of shells in some of the oysters, rising water temperatures, and not encountering as many starfish in my gear as I used to. I’m not sure this is all due to acidification, but it was about the same time period as acidification was starting to be noticed. The soft shells started to worry me, so to combat this, I started lowering my gear in the water to to keep the internal temps of the oysters down. I’ve also noticed an uptick in starfish, although I still don’t see as many on the beaches as I used to in the early 2000’s.
You’re involved with the Shellfish Grower’s Climate Coalition. Tell us a little bit about that group and what’s it like working with them?
Yes, we recently became members and although we haven’t done much work with their program other than maybe a social media post here and there. Often I feel small industries especially unique ones such as shellfish are overlooked in the broad scope of what’s going on with our environment. It’s nice to know there is a group of like minded business’s and farms working towards getting more information to people who are in positions which can create a change in how we treat our environment. The same environment that provides us with not only food, but also helps with keeping our always changing ocean waters clean and sustainable.
Are shellfish growers in Alaska thinking or talking about ocean acidification? If so, what is the discussion like? If not, why not?
Yes, although most of the topics may revolve around PSP levels and testing protocols, acidification and water temps always come up within discussion about maintaining a “hearty” oyster. One which can stay fresh and travel well for customers out of state.
What would be helpful information from the research community as you think about the future of your business, and of shellfish growing in Alaska?
As the shellfish industry continues to grow in Alaska, it’s important to share the positive impacts that shellfish farming has on the environment, coastal communities and how that reflects on it being a sustainable food resource from Southeast Alaska.
Tell us about a memorable moment from your time as a shellfish farmer
Although there are many, I’d say it would be while I was working on the farm one day and a pod of orcas swam around and under my work float. One on each side, and a small one literally from underneath. A close second would be when a sea lion gave me a surprise when it surfaced right next to me and wanted to say “hello” while working oyster stacks on our grow-out raft. From weather to wildlife everyday can be a bit different, and most are experiences that I’ll never forget!
Burke Hales (Oregon State University)
Meet Burke Hales
Burke Hales is a professor of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry at Oregon State University, and the inventor of the “Burke-o-Lator” a system that has revolutionized shore-based OA monitoring. Burke is a member of the Alaska OA Network and has been involved in getting all three of Alaska’s Burke-o-Lators up and running.
Q: Tell us about what element of OA you work on, and how you got interested in this topic.
I have studied ocean carbon cycling, from the perspective of carbonate chemistry, since I started grad school in 1988. That project focused on how calcium carbonate dissolution in deep ocean sediments was impacted by CO2 produced by respiration, and made use of an autonomous system that measured pH and oxygen concentration over millimeter scales on the seafloor. From there, I moved on to studying surface-ocean and ocean-margin CO2 cycling, where I devised systems for high-speed autonomous ocean sampling and chemical analysis. Ocean acidification is just one facet of ocean carbon cycling, and in some ways, I have been studying that for nearly 30 years. What really helped me make the transition from general research on ocean carbon cycling to focused OA work was the development of an experimental method that would allow the normally co-varying facets of the CO2 system (pCO2, pH, Ω) to be decoupled from each other, in conjunction with colleagues who were able to carry out very careful manipulations with larval mussels and oysters. The result of those experiments, namely that these organisms were sensitive exclusively to Ω at modern-day-proximal conditions, is what established our contributions to this field.
Q: How about the Burke-o-Lator… what does it do and what’s the story behind its invention?
The Burke-o-Lator is a highly automated system that measures the CO2 partial pressure (pCO2) and total dissolved inorganic carbon (TCO2) of flowing or discrete-bottle samples. What makes it unique is this combination of these two measurable parameters, and the capability to make both measurements on the same water sample. Carbonate chemistry is never fully constrained unless you make measurements of any two of alkalinity, TCO2, pCO2, or pH, and alkalinity and pH can be challenging in the highly variable coastal environment. The system can make research-grade measurements of these parameters at a cost of about half of other single-parameter systems. During the continuous analysis of flowing seawater streams, the pCO2 measurement relies on a prominently visible water-gas ‘equilibrator’, which consists of a separation unit that has a bubbling, foaming mixture of water and air bubbles. This equilibrator is what prompted Mark Wiegardt, Netarts Bay oysterman and Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery co-owner, to coin the name ‘Burke-o-Lator’. I wasn’t even aware of this name for months after Mark started using it, and only heard about the name from some thirdhand. However, it is a great name and OSU and my side company, Dakunalytics, have since trademarked it.
In my prior research, I had already had the need to develop high-speed, research-grade measurement systems for pCO2 and TCO2 that I could interface with the fast-flowing sample streams coming from the Pumping SeaSoar and SuperSucker systems. The development of the Burke-o-Lator was a merging of those two systems, and it was prompted by the need to have an automated Ω-determining system that we could install at the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in response to the Pacific Northwest Seedstock Crisis. We needed a system that could deal with the complicated and turbid waters of the coastal environment without extensive need for hands-on servicing and maintenance. We built the prototype out of spare parts in my lab at OSU, and then the first full system was produced for Craig Carlson, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, before we put the second complete system in place at WCSH in 2011. The WCSH system has been completely rebuilt twice since then, as we refine and improve its operation.
Q: Where are the Burke-o-Lators in Alaska and why do we need them?
Currently, there are Burke-o-Lator systems at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, Oceans Alaska in Ketchikan, and at the Sitka Tribes Alaska Environmental Research Laboratory in Sitka. Dakunalytics is producing another for installation at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center facility in Kodiak in September of this year. Alaska coastal waters are cold and fresh in comparison to the average open ocean, which means that CO2 is more soluble in those waters. This means that the impact on the water’s carbonate chemistry is greater as atmospheric CO2 rises. Alaskan waters are already naturally close to the Ω thresholds that we identified in our experimental work. In addition, coastal waters are highly variable, and this means that there will rapid transitions between strongly favorable and strongly unfavorable conditions, that would be hard to detect without this measurement technology.
Q: Can you tell us about a memorable time in the lab or in the field?
When I was just starting graduate school, I went on a research cruise between Cape Cod and Bermuda. A problem was that it coincided with Hurricane Hugo, and we chose to set sail instead of risking being trapped in port as the storm approached. The instrument I was working on at the time relied on small electrodes that had to be filled with special solutions using hypodermic syringes and needles. During one particularly rough period, I was braced against the lab bench and struggling to keep this heavy instrument from falling off its stand as the ship rolled away behind me. Of course, I had one of those syringes on the lab bench, and it came sliding along the bench-rail straight at my ‘nether’ region. I distinctly remember thinking about my horrible options: bail out and probably destroy the instrument the cruise depended on, fall over backwards with the instrument crashing down on me, and/or being involuntarily vaccinated with pH-electrode filling solution. As bad as that was, the senior graduate student in the lab thought it was the most hilarious thing he had ever seen, and started yelling stuff like “How much do you love oceanography, son???” At that moment, I didn’t love it one bit, but the weather flattened out in a few days, and we managed to get a really nice dataset and I’ve been able to laugh about that moment for at least the last few years.
Q: Any advice for someone entering the OA world as a young scientist?
Be quantitative, and produce objectively clear results. OA is a fairly simple problem: The chemistry is well known, and the possible effects are numerous. But it takes more careful and detailed analysis than many appreciate, and it is really hard to adequately determine the difference between natural variability and the effects of rising CO2. Working with living organisms is very challenging. And, finally, OA is inherently a multiple-stressor problem, where multiple factors change in response to rising CO2. Understanding the mechanisms of response can be a complicated process. All of these challenges require solid backgrounds in mathematics and the physical sciences.
Clayton Hamilton (Alaska OA Network's new Fishing Fellow)
Meet Clayton Hamilton
Clayton Hamilton joins the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network this fall as part of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s Fishing Fellowship program. Clayton is based in Juneau and will be working with the network 5-10 hours a week over the next six months on outreach and fishing community engagement.
Q: Tell us about your background – how did you get interested in fishing and what role does it play in your life?
Despite a fairly sizeable detour in Iowa, I have always been interested in living on and with the ocean. Today fishing is what I do. It is a way to live with the ocean, a way to participate in the natural order. I love our Alaskan seasonal way of life. It suits me and keeps me healthy and happy. When I first came to Alaska it was with Americorps. I stayed and knew that I wanted to learn more about this place and ecosystem and so I worked with the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game for a few years and got an AAS in Alaskan fisheries management and aquaculture from the University of Alaska Southeast. By this time, though, I had started fishing for cod in the winters, first in Kodiak and then in Southeast. More and more, the desire to spend more time on the water and to work for myself led me towards fishing which is now that I do full time. As I look towards the future I plan to keep fishing and to branch out into mariculture.
Q: How did ocean acidification emerge on your radar, and what makes you interested in the topic?
OA has been on my radar from the outset. What it actually means for fishing, fish and the ocean community, I’m not sure. This is a big part of my motivation to learn more for myself and to start speaking with the broader community about what OA will mean in the future. The ocean is going to get more acidic and that will have real impacts on landings and on the ecosystem as a whole. Only by understanding this phenomenon will we be able to cope with it.
Q: What’s your sense on how fishermen think about ocean acidification? Are your fishing colleagues aware of the issue? Is it something fishermen discuss?
The fishermen I have met here in Alaska are in tune with the world they live in. Fishermen are aware of the issues and often very well informed and connected, despite the somewhat isolated nature of the work and lifestyle. Ocean acidification can be a difficult issue to approach initially as pH is not a factor we are used to dealing with. That being said, Alaska fishermen are well-placed as advocates for ocean management and are leading the way when it comes to fighting for habitat in Alaska.
Q: How do you see fishermen playing a role in addressing the issue?
As a fisherman, I see amazing things every day and while my experience is pretty limited, I see the ocean changing day by day and season by season. We all do. Alaska small boat fishermen are deeply aware of their relationship to the natural world. Behind every successful conservation story I can think of were stakeholder advocates speaking out for the health of the resource and more commonly, the health of the ecosystem that sustained them. Fishermen are leading the fight for habitat protection in Alaska right now and with proper outreach can be mobilized to act on ocean acidification as well.
Q: What do you most hope to get out of your fellowship with the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network?
I am already enjoying all the fun and engaging people I am meeting.
I have all my eggs in the ocean basket. I am buying into Alaska salmon; I fish all year round and I’m working towards starting a mariculture company here in Juneau. My future is tied to the health of the Gulf of Alaska and that is why I am truly interested in what’s going on in the state to learn more about this phenomenon and then in turn to deal with it.
Christy Harrington (Alaska Marine Highway System)
Meet Christy Harrington
Background: The Alaska Marine Highway/DOT is collaborating in a unique partnership to help understand ocean acidification in Alaska. A carbon measurement system was installed on the M/V Columbia to collect data during it’s ~1,600 km run between Bellingham, WA and Skagway, making it the most extensive ferry-based CO2 system in North America.
Through this endeavor, a near-shore coastal observatory network is being built linking instruments along the southeast Alaska and British Columbia coasts. Partners include the Hakai Institute, NOAA, the Alaska Ocean Observing System, and the UAS Coastal Rainforest Center.
Christy Harrington is with the Alaska Marine Highway System based in Ketchikan and helps support the project.
Q: Tell us about your role in the OA ferry project.
I’m the Environmental Specialist for the Alaska Marine Highway, and I provide shoreside support in Ketchikan as well as serve as the Alaska Marine Highway liaison for the OA project. My responsibilities include maintaining proper operations of the ocean acidification system, retrieving the oceanographic data from the computer inside the dry box and providing regular maintenance to the system.
Maintenance of the system is especially important as the operation of the system is based upon intake of sea water which contains many different marine organisms as well as marine debris. Upon seawater intake in the bow thruster, different size filters separate out these organisms from the seawater. These organisms include microscopic marine organisms (i.e plankton, marine plant, seaweed and algae) which could clog up the system if not kept clean. One of the coolest things I have seen quite frequently is when cleaning the wet box filter, the tiny plankton trapped in the filter will bioluminescent when there is a fair number of them in the filter!
Q: What did it take to retrofit the ferry to monitor for OA?
Retrofitting the MV Columbia with the system was a serious undertaking and was completed in April 2017. It included installing a piping system from the bow thruster intake valve up to the car deck, installing oceanographic equipment on the bow, and a General Oceanics measuring system on the car deck with ancillary sensors.
Q: What does the CO2 system on the ferry look like?
The General Oceanics System consists of a wet box and dry box. Ocean water is sucked up while the ship is underway, and then is measured for oxygen, temperature and salinity. Then it’s pumped into the wet box, where it is sprayed into a little container. Air in that container picks up carbon dioxide contained in the water. That air then is pumped into dry box, which analyzes CO2 levels. Those levels indicate the acidity of the water. Separate sensors measure carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, to compare that with the seawater. The whole thing is about 4 feet wide and 1 foot tall.
Q: What needs to happen every time the ferry comes into port?
The M/V Columbia arrives in Ketchikan twice a week. At that point, we pull the oceanographic data and logs from the computer and send them to the Hakai Institute for further analysis. We also clear the blow thruster and wet box filter thoroughly to make sure the system continues running smoothly.
Q: Why did the AMHS decide to take this on?
Since the Columbia provides year round service on a standard route, it provided an ideal research platform to study ocean chemistry across time, and across an immense stretch of coastline. The AMHS had the capacity to be a partner, and supported the mission to provide important marine data for current and future fisheries.
Q: Do you think the project has provided an opportunity for more people to learn about OA?
Yes, it’s been a great educational opportunity. There’s a poster on the ferry explaining the project that passengers can look at while in transit. Also, in 2017 , we arranged for school groups in Ketchikan to come aboard to learn about ocean acidification. We had 1st – 5th graders from Fast Track Homeschool and 9th – 12th graders from Ketchikan High School. The Alaska Marine Highway also arranged a presentation to 3rd and 4th graders at the Tongass Arts & Science School. These events were a great success. I’d like to acknowledge the help from the M/V Columbia crew – Captain Mark Lundamo, Chief Mate Jim Annicelli and Chief Engineer Mark Perez.
Claudine Hauri (UAF International Arctic Research Center)
Meet Claudine Hauri
Claudine Hauri is a Research Assistant Professor with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Hailing from Switzerland, she came to UAF in 2012 and focuses on ocean acidification and the carbon system.
Q: What drew you to the study of ocean acidification in Alaska?
I moved to Alaska almost five years ago, and I fell in love with its beautiful landscapes, richness of culture, diverse wildlife, and exciting seasons. My passion for living in Alaska helps me develop new research ideas to tackle the challenges our state faces from climate change and ocean acidification. Preserving Alaska’s beauty and natural resources is an immensely important task. I believe we owe that to the native peoples of Alaska and future generations to come.
Q: What element of OA do you work on, and where?
I am a chemical oceanographer, and I’m interested in how different physical, biological, and chemical processes alter pH and the rest of the carbon system in high-latitude regions. These natural processes are important, as they can weaken or enhance ocean acidification. For example, while seasonal sea ice and glacial melt further enhance OA, phytoplankton blooms can temporally weaken the OA effects.
These processes are bound to change in the future, with unprecedented consequences for marine ecosystems—especially in Alaska, a bellwether for climate change and OA around the US. Over the years I have acquired a diverse set of tools, including work with oceanographic observations, biogeochemical modeling, and the development of new, autonomous ways for measuring carbon (e.g., a carbon-profiling glider).
Since I also have a MSc degree in Biology, I also enjoy working with marine ecologists, linking my knowledge of field and model oceanographic studies with experimental biological studies to help improve our understanding of biological responses from marine organisms to ocean acidification and global change.
Q: What are some of the most notable things you’ve learned about OA in Alaska or in general?
Even though ocean acidification can be described simply as the global decrease of seawater pH due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, it manifests itself in many complex ways. pH does not decrease at the same rate across the globe, nor are there any single thresholds that affect all organisms within a particular species equally. The rate of change in pH, influence of climate change on pH, and the consequences for organisms vary from region to region.
As with many other research fields, the more we find out about OA, the more we realize that we only understand the tip of this iceberg.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges for research in the OA field?
Communication about the issues of ocean acidification is an important, but very challenging, aspect of a researcher’s work. While we do not have an answer to every question yet, it is timely to make the public aware of the potential consequences of OA.
Close collaborations between OA experts, social scientists, and communication specialists will help to more effectively communicate the challenges of OA. These efforts must be supported by Universities and funding agencies alike.
Q: What is a really memorable moment from your time in the field or in the lab?
Each summer I am a leader for “Inspiring Girls Expeditions,” tuition-free wilderness and science programs for teenage girls with limited opportunities. Exploring the Alaskan wilderness with these highly motivated young ladies over twelve days is the highlight of my work each year.
During this time, I get to transfer my excitement and love for science, wilderness, and outdoor activities to young women who may otherwise never get this kind of experience. It’s so rewarding to see their self-confidence grow when they summit a mountain, cross a raging river, or successfully complete a science experiment.
I am currently developing a new variation of this program called “Girls in Icy Fjords,” aimed at introducing these young women to the science of high latitude marine environments, with a special focus on ocean acidification and climate change.
Jeff Hetrick (Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery)
Meet Jeff Hetrick
Meet Jeff Hetrick, the director of the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward. Jeff has 30 years of experience in the Alaska aquaculture industry and formerly operated a shellfish farm in Prince William Sound. He has been the director of Alutiiq Pride since 2002.
Q: How did you get involved in ocean acidification?
We started looking at ocean acidification as part of the shellfish hatchery crisis that affected the oyster industry on the west coast. I had attended meetings of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association and had informal discussions with hatchery managers and operators and they all expressed concerns about OA. Unfortunately, we had no way of knowing if we were being impacted. We were contacted by Wiley Evans from PMEL and asked if we would be interested in participating with maintaining a PCO2 monitor and we said yes.
Q: Explain a little about your day-to-day work at the hatchery. What species are growing and what you are monitoring?
The hatchery is like a farm where you need coverage 7 days a week. We feed live algae, which has to be cared for everyday and we need to maintain all of the systems. We presently raise red king crab, abalone, cockles, butter clam sea cucumbers, little neck clams, oysters and geoducks. We also have an OA Lab were we constantly monitor our sea water intake and we also process discrete water samples from our partners at the villages in Prince William Sound and Kachemak Bay.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of studying ocean acidification with respect to shellfish?
The OA field is relatively new and we are just now beginning to understand the effect on the different shellfish and the vulnerability at different life stages. We have a here pronged approach with our OA monitoring. We do a constant monitoring of our saltwater intake, we have a discrete sampling program with ten partners in South-central Alaska and we have set up a dosing lab to study the effect of different aragonite saturation levels on juvenile shellfish.
Q: Hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest have had a lot of trouble with ocean acidification. So far Alaska is not experiencing those affects? What’s different?
The hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest have learned to farm around OA by dosing with lime or soda ash. We will be installing similar systems at Alutiiq Pride since we have episodes where the water chemistry, specifically aragonite saturation, gets really low. We are now catching up with the technologies that have been used elsewhere and applying them to our unique situation here.
Q: Where do you see the shellfish industry in Alaska in 20 years?
The shellfish industry has been slow to develop but the past few years has seen impressive growth. I think we’ll see new and emerging species being cultured and I think we’ll see a lot of enhancement of public beaches. Our shellfish populations are at a critically low level with almost no recruitment of hardshell clams in Southcentral Alaska for over a decade. We are utilizing the shellfish garden and sanctuary concept to bring back some localized populations near native villages in the Chugach Region. These sanctuaries protect juveniles and adults to help jump start populations. They also serve as “living laboratories” to try to determine what the bottleneck may be for these species.
Q: What is a really memorable moment from your career at the hatchery or working with shellfish in Alaska?
I think my most memorable moment is when we successfully raised a significant number of red king crabs and finally got to do some out-stocking experiments. King crab culture is not very well understood and we developed techniques to go from experimental small scale attempts to production and economically viable levels. We had to overcome numerous obstacles including diet requirements, handling protocols, shipping culminating in 30% survival from larvae to out-stocking.
Kris Holderied (NOAA’s Kasitsna Bay Lab)
Meet Kris Holderied
Kris Holderied is a physical oceanographer and the director of NOAA’s Kasitsna Bay Lab in Kachemak Bay. Kris has been an active contributor to ocean acidification nearshore monitoring and recently joined the Alaska OA Network’s executive committee.
Q: Why is Kachemak Bay a particularly interesting place to study ocean acidification?
Well, to start with, Kachemak Bay is one of the most fantastic places to study Alaska coastal ecosystems – it’s a great natural laboratory, with rich marine fish, mammal and bird communities and all the marine habitats found across the Gulf of Alaska, including kelp forests, seagrass beds, mudflats, salt marshes and rocky intertidal areas that emerge during our huge low tides. It also has many different types of sub-estuaries, from wide, shallow flats to deep, narrow fjords and rivers with a range of glacial water input. All in a place that, for Alaska, is easy to access and where we can work year round out of our NOAA Kasitsna Bay Lab. For OA it’s also a particularly interesting place to study nearshore waters, because of a variety of physical conditions that can change water chemistry in the bay – including freshwater from glacial and non-glacial watersheds and upwelled ocean waters coming in from the nearby entrance to Cook Inlet. But rich primary production in the bay, whether from phytoplankton in the water and kelp and seagrass along the shore, also means it is a place where biology can affect water chemistry and OA conditions.
Q: Do the conditions you’re finding in Kachemak Bay follow similar patterns to other parts of Alaska?
One of the things we found out right away, even with the relatively simple pH sensors that have been in place in Kachemak Bay since the early 2000s, is how much variability there is in OA conditions in the bay, both seasonally and on really short time scales. That’s now been measured much more accurately with continuous observations from sensors deployed in the bay by Amanda Kelley from UAF. The high variability we see in the bay has also been found in other coastal areas around the state where more frequent observations are being made.
Q: Tell us a little more about the type of ocean acidification monitoring and research going on in the bay and the main questions you and other partners are trying to answer.
Most of our work in Kachemak Bay has been focused on quantifying variability in OA conditions in estuary waters, with a goal to better understand what drives those changes and provide information that helps determine what species might be vulnerable to those conditions. Getting a handle on how much and how fast water chemistry changes, from daily to multi-year time scales, is also needed to determine how well we can detect long-term trends in OA conditions. We partner with other researchers for all our OA work. On our monthly oceanography surveys, we collect water samples which are analyzed at the Alutiiq Pride lab in Seward. Amanda Kelley has sensors deployed for continuous measurements at five sites around the bay and she has also set up an OA experimental testing system at our lab which can be used to investigate species responses to different OA conditions.
Q: Can you tell us about a particularly memorable moment in the field or in the lab?
One of my most memorable field experiences is from far south of here, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. We were snorkeling at multiple islands to collect field data to validate coral reef habitat maps we’re making from satellite data. At one site we jumped into the water from our small boat and were immediately dragged with a strong current towards a shallow break in the reef. Swimming as hard as we could, we barely got back to the boat. Repositioning away from that current and getting in the water again, we looked back at gap … only to see a Hawaiian monk seal right in the middle of the current, holding position with little apparent effort and seemingly quizzical about our struggles.
Q: You’ve mentored students in the past including NOAA Hollings Undergraduate Scholars. What advice would you give to a student interested in getting into the field of ocean acidification?
I think understanding how different species respond to the intersecting effects of OA, climate change and other stressors, like harmful algal blooms or pathogens, is really interesting. And knowing what species are vulnerable to these effects and when they might be vulnerable is important for fishermen, oyster farmers and other people who make a living from the ocean. These questions cross different areas of science, so I’d encourage students to take a cross-disciplinary approach to their studies and also get grounded in ecological relationships and ecosystem dynamics.
Tom Hurst (NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center)
Meet Tom Hurst
Tom Hurst is a research fisheries biologist at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s lab in Newport, OR and a member of the Alaska OA Network steering committee.
Q: You work on groundfish response to OA, among other things. What are the main takeaways that you’ve learned so far?
One of the main takeaways from my own work and from that of colleagues is that the response to OA is more varied than we initially thought it might be. We are finding that even closely related species can differ in their sensitivity. For example, Pacific cod and walleye pollock are closely related, but we saw effects of OA on growth of larval Pacific cod that were not apparent in walleye pollock.
The other lesson we learned is that you need to take a pretty broad approach to evaluating the sensitivity of a given species. This may involve repeating experiments to confirm results or look for different types of effects. As I said, while our early studies did not find effects on growth of walleye pollock larvae, more recent follow-up studies suggest impacts on lipid metabolism and development which could have negative impacts later in life.
Q: How do you go about setting up experiments to measure OA responses in groundfish? Are there factors that make it particularly tricky?
Now that we have a number of experiments under our belt, the technical aspects of running the experiments go a little more smoothly each time. But the difficult part that persists is deciding exactly what types of responses we are going to measure in each experiment. We always measure factors like growth rates, but then we have to choose among other factors like evaluating developmental deformities, metabolic processes, behavioral and sensory biology, and even genetics. Each of these aspects costs money and requires partnering with different experts. We have to balance applying all these tools to a single species or even a single life stage with gathering some information for the range of species that we are interested in. In making these decisions we try to provide the greatest overall understanding of the impacts of OA on Alaska and Arctic ecosystems and fisheries. We also set aside samples from the experiments, so that we can go back later to examine things that weren’t included in the first set of analyses.
Q: The lab and the wild are vastly different environments. How do you approach this when running experiments and interpreting results?
Yes, that is a great question and something that we think about a lot. We generally think of the lab as being a pretty good environment for fish to grow up because there is plenty of food and there aren’t any predators around. But, there are other differences between the lab and the ocean whose impacts on our observations are harder to evaluate. While there is plenty of food available to the fish in the lab, it isn’t exactly the same as they would find in nature. In the lab we have the ability to focus on one or two factors at a time while controlling other things that might vary in the field. When we interpret our observations and apply them to fishes in the wild, we want to focus on the most fundamental aspects of the responses that we can be confident will be robust to those differences. So we accept that the fish might not grow at the same rates in the lab as in the field, but if we see that exposure to high CO2 levels in the lab affects growth rates, we can be pretty confident that the same basic response would occur in the wild.
Q: What led you to the field of OA and groundfish?
Most of my work since graduate school has focused on environmental and habitat effects on fishes with an emphasis on temperature effects. In the early to mid-2000s, the idea emerged that ocean acidification was something that biologists needed to pay attention to, not just the ocean chemists. The lab where I worked (and now lead) has great facilities for doing the exact kind of experiments that were needed to study the issue for Alaska fishes (clean seawater and chilling capacity for cold-water experiments). So, in collaboration with others from across the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, we drafted a broad OA research plan and formed collaborations with chemists at the University of Alaska and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. We did our first experiments in my lab in 2009 with some support from the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, and we have been working on it ever since, now with funding from NOAA.
Q: Do you have any particularly memorable moments from the lab or in the field?
My work on OA has all been based in the laboratory, and my favorite moments almost all involve the graduate students and undergraduate interns that I have worked with over the years. They frequently come in with an understanding of what OA is, but not how we study it. It is great to see them figure out how their summer project fits into the big picture and our growing understanding of this world-wide concern.
Q: Do you have hope for groundfish in the future in our changing climate?
I believe there is always reason for optimism. The recent declines of Pacific cod in the Gulf should definitely serve as an indication of the potential sensitivity of some of our critical fisheries to changing climate conditions. But, Alaska’s oceans are extremely productive systems that have supported fisheries and communities for generations. The key will be continuing to monitor ocean conditions and fish stocks while improving our understanding of climate impacts, and incorporating these into our robust management practices so we can adapt to changing conditions. I am confident that we can do that. So, yes, I am optimistic about the future of groundfish populations and the fisheries and people they support.
Amanda Kelley (UAF Ocean Acidification Research Center)
Meet Amanda Kelley
Meet Amanda Kelley, an assistant professor at UAF’s School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the co-Director of the UAF Ocean Acidification Research Center. Amanda took some time to answer questions about her research, what drew her to study ocean acidification, and some memorable moments in her career.
Q: What element of OA do you work on, and where?
I am an ecophysiologist interested in studying the biological impacts of ocean acidification and other man-made environmental stressors. I use laboratory experiments and field instruments (such as ocean pH sensors) to predict how key marine species will respond to future ocean change. Currently I’m working with the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward to conduct ocean acidification experiments on juvenile geoduck clams. The goal is to determine their potential vulnerability to ocean acidification.
Q: What drew you to study ocean acidification in Alaska?
A: Ocean acidification in high-latitudes is an ecological threat that we will face this century. Alaska is particularly at risk because we rely on healthy marine ecosystems to for our economy, recreation, and food. My background in studying ocean change in Antarctica left me poised to bring my particular skill set to Alaska to get a better understanding of the resilience – how will our living marine resources respond to ocean acidification.
Q: What are some of the most notable things you’ve learned about OA in Alaska or in general?
The field of ocean acidification research has really come a long way in terms of determining what types of questions need to be answered, and answering them. Technology has helped us do this – we now have oceanographic sensors that can measure a myriad of parameters in high-frequency, and for long periods of time. These data are really helpful in figuring out how to set up lab experiments appropriately, and also to establish a baseline so we can compare conditions in the future to those we’re experiencing now. Our ability to investigate the response of marine life has also been pushed forward using lab experiments and numerical modeling so we can get a better handle on how communities and ecosystems may shift.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges for a researcher in the OA field?
Alaska is a very big state, and serves as coastal habitat for many different bodies of water, including the Gulf of Alaska and Chukchi Sea. These various habitats are entrained by diverse physicochemical processes that are important for the animals that live there. Getting a pulse on the type of environmental variability that exists (such as pH, temperature, oxygen concentration, salinity) on an hourly, weekly, seasonal, and annual basis is difficult given the remote nature these ecosystems. We need to know what the animals are experiencing now on order to understand how they may respond to future ocean change. This task is a difficult one given Alaska’s size and remoteness.
Q: What is a really memorable moment from your time in the field or in the lab?
My most memorable time in the field was when I got to dive under the sea ice in McMurdo Sound, to collect my study organisms and to perform maintenance on our pH sensors. The visibility is amazing due to the fact that very little primary productivity happens during winter as a result of 24-hour darkness. The sea ice overhead casts an amazing hue of blue that is unique to this environment.
Esther Kennedy (Sitka Tribe of Alaska)
Meet Esther Kennedy
Esther Kennedy is the environmental specialist with the Sitka Tribe. Born and raised in Alaska, she now oversees a number of ocean acidification monitoring projects in the Sitka Sound area.
Q: What drew you to the study of ocean acidification in Alaska?
I studied geology in college, specifically Earth history and paleo-ocean chemistry. Ocean acidification has been directly implicated with or associated with most marine mass extinctions in the last 500 million years! The more I learned about ocean acidification’s morbid history, the more modern acidification work fascinated me. Now we have the opportunity to study acidification on a much faster time frame than we have seen in the geologic record (everyone has to find a silver lining somewhere…). I was lucky enough to be offered a job getting an OA-monitoring project started at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska in 2015 and have been happily working on that project ever since.
Q: Tell us more about your role — what element do you work on and where?
I work for the Resource Protection Department of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, where our primary focus is to ensure or improve access to traditional subsistence or cultural resources. Our interest in ocean acidification is centered on how increased acidity will affect populations of or access to marine resources like salmon, shellfish, groundfish, and seaweed. Nearshore ocean acidification research is still a relatively new field, especially in Alaska, it is still an open question whether OA’s effects are likely to be amplified or attenuated on local scales around Southeast. The Sitka Tribe is still very much at the data-gathering stage of those questions, so our current focus is generating high-quality measurements from multiple places in Sitka Sound and from our partner communities around Southeast. Once our instruments are running well, we will begin integrating our OA data into our ongoing harmful algal bloom and traditional food projects.
Q: What are some of the most notable things you’ve learned about OA in Alaska or in general?
One of the things that consistently surprises me about OA is that pH (how “acidic” the water is) does not necessarily predict whether shell-forming organisms will have difficulty making their shells. Most shells are made out of aragonite, a carbonate mineral. The stability of aragonite depends in part on pH, but also on the amount of available carbonate, the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide, and the alkalinity of the water, among other things. To effectively put the water’s pH in context, at least one other carbonate system variable needs to be monitored. While I had known that pH does not tell the whole OA story, I was floored to see data showing areas in the Beaufort sea with pHs of 8.1 or higher (as high as anywhere in the ocean) that still could not support shell formation! It will be interesting to see how communities around Southeast compare.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges in your work?
Since I’m relatively new to OA monitoring, collecting consistent, high-quality data strikes me as our biggest challenge. Many OA instruments are finicky and prone to measurement drift, especially autonomous sensors designed to live on a buoy for months or years at a time. Combine the need for frequent calibration of those instruments with the frequently uncooperative weather that can make it difficult to even access our equipment and it can quickly become difficult to make any meaningful measurements at all.
The other challenge I’m concerned about is the temptation to over-interpret data when working under the short time frames that grants typically require. Alaska does not have a long history of nearshore OA monitoring and nearshore environments typically see much larger pH and dissolved carbon dioxide swings than open-ocean environments do. It will be several years before we’ll be able to start to tease out any true OA signal here in Southeast, although knowing more about our natural chemistry swings will still be useful in the meantime.
Q: What is a really memorable moment from your time in the field or in the lab?
The Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association and the Sitka Sound Science Center recently hosted a roundtable discussion in Sitka about the impacts that ocean acidification will have on commercial fisheries. Jessica Cross, a NOAA Fisheries researcher, gave a short introduction about OA, then opened the floor for questions. The level of engagement was incredible! There were more than 30 local fishermen there, all wondering what we can do to be more proactive about OA and how they might need to change practices in the future. The potential sacrifices those fishermen were willing to discuss in the hopes of reducing pressure on fish stocks and mitigating the effects of OA gave me hope that we’ll be able to start having similar conversations on a national level soon. It’s hard to be optimistic about the fate of commercial or subsistence fisheries given the threats of climate change and OA, but conversations like that roundtable certainly help me to try.
Kristy Kroeker (UC Santa Cruz)
Meet Kristy Kroeker
Kristy Kroeker is an ecologist and a professor at UC Santa Cruz. She has been studying ocean acidification for 10 years, most recently focusing on kelp forests in Sitka Sound.
Q: What element of OA do you work on in Alaska and where?
As an ecologist, I am studying the effects of ocean acidification and warming on kelp forest ecosystems and species in southeast Alaska. We think that ocean acidification will increase the energetic demands of a wide range of vulnerable species, such as abalone and sea urchins, and our work is trying to determine how the effects on individual species will scale-up to affect entire ecosystems and species at the top of the food webs that people often care about.
Q: What drew you to this type of work?
I have always been interested in doing science that is relevant to people and can inform decisions. I started studying the ecological effects of ocean acidification over ten years ago, when I realized that our understanding regarding how entire ecosystems might change in the future and how those changes could affect our coastal communities was very limited. I started working in kelp forests in the last five years because kelp provides food and habitat for many species that we care about, from abalone to rockfish, but there has been very little research on how they might change with continued acidification and warming.
Q: Could you tell us more about meta-analysis and how it can help?
Meta-analysis is a quantitative way of summarizing a bunch of different studies (that may have been done for different reasons) to identify generalities in a field of study. For ocean acidification research, meta-analysis can be really useful because we don’t have the resources to study the effects of ocean acidification on every species in the ocean. Meta-analysis can allow us to see if general patterns in response to ocean acidification emerge across the wide variety of experiments and species we have studied. We can then use the results from meta-analysis to build hypotheses for the understudied species or systems. As an experimentalist, I also find that meta-analysis is helpful in putting my own studies and results in context and identifying gaps in our understanding.
Q: We understand you work with kelp forests – how common are they in Alaska and what can we learn from them?
Kelp forests are an incredibly beautiful and important ecosystem. The ecosystem is based on the presence of kelp, which serves as a habitat and food source for many culturally and economically important species in Alaska, from Lingcod and rockfish to herring and abalone. Kelp forests are found from the Southeast, the Gulf of Alaska, and throughout the Aleutian Archipelago, although the dominant kelp species differs in each region.
In southeast Alaska, where I have been working for the last few years, the dominant kelp is Macrocystis pyrifera – the giant kelp. This is the same species that is found along the coastlines of California, where I live, and southeast Alaska is the northern range limit for this species. Because cold water can hold more carbon dioxide, Alaska already experiences relatively corrosive waters during winter months. We are using these giant kelp forests at the northern edge of their range to understand how ecological processes and energy flows through food webs vary seasonally – and trying to determine what these seasonal differences can tell us about kelp forest food webs in the future.
Q: What are some of the most surprising findings you’ve discovered?
We just finished a really interesting study on the effects of ocean acidification on pinto abalone that was led by one of my undergraduate students. She found that pinto abalone can continue to grow in conditions we expect to see in the year 2100 with continued acidification, but only when the abalone have access to a wide variety of algal food sources. Unfortunately, the algal community is greatly diminished during the winter months in Alaska, due to a lack of light and storms that rip out the algae. When the food choices for abalone are more limited, which we think is representative of the winter months, she found that pinto abalone could already be suffering reduced growth during winter, when the water is more cold and corrosive.
Q: Can you tell us about a memorable time in the lab or in the field?
We are very lucky because we get to work underwater for our research. Every time I get to dive in the kelp forest in Sitka Sound is memorable. The kelp forests in southeast Alaska are fascinating and beautiful, and the winter months are incredibly clear. My favorite part is the seafloor under the kelp canopy during the winter, which is covered by a carpet of pink coralline algae, which provides hiding spots for hundreds of little colorful invertebrates and fishes. It’s really spectacular.
Edie Marie (Alaska OA Network and UAF student)
Meet Edie Marie
Edie Mari is a student at UAF who has been working with the Alaska OA Network since September. She helped launch the Future Ocean Podcast and is in the midst of translating science for the new Alaska OA Network website. Edie is currently based in Portugal.
Q: Tell us about your background. How did you find your way to ocean acidification?
I spent the first decade of my career working in community engagement and outreach in social justice oriented arts nonprofits. I believe deeply in the community-building power of performing arts, live theater, and documentary film, especially in building momentum and actualizing real change. I began a gradual and deliberate transition to environmental studies after a series of events brought the climate crisis into personal focus. In 2015, my wife and I witnessed our favorite reef bleach; not long after, fire tore through the hills near our home, burning down a beloved retreat. Every year since then, I have lost parts of my world, my culture, and my livelihood to the ravages of climate change. In response, I’m pursuing a career shift and putting my energy into efforts that are directly addressing human impacts on the environment. Much of my life revolves around the ocean, so I’m not surprised to have found a new home in the OA community.
Q: You’ve lived in different parts of the US and around the world. What do you think makes people pay attention to environmental issues?
It has been interesting to witness the broader cultural differences in response to the climate crisis. Worldview plays a big part in how you process environmental issues and the decisions you make based on the information you have. That being said, the really fruitful and passionate conversations I’ve been invited into have all started from a place of being in relationship with the natural world, regardless of culture or nationality. These relationships with certain places and with certain species give us reason to be invested in what happens to them and we pay attention when their names are called. Baba Dioum’s quote is popular in the coral conservation world, and I tend to really run with the first part, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love.” Whenever I want someone to connect with an environmental issue, I go looking for that seed of love.
“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum, 1968
Q: Do you have any thoughts or observations about the ocean acidification community through your work so far?
The ocean is a gathering place and I’ve always found community there. Some folks are born of it, saltwater in the womb. Others are called to it from grassy plains and snow-dusted peaks. It sustains life, physically and spiritually, but you can only enter on its own terms. Folks who abide by the preconditions of the ocean are really rad people. So far, my experience of the OA community has shown me that you all are incredibly passionate, driven, joyful, focused, excited, realistic, righteous, inspiring, and hopeful. What an extraordinary community to be a part of as we head into this wild and demanding future.
Q: What are a few projects that you’re working on, or looking forward to working on with the network?
I started the semester by helping roll out The Future Ocean Podcast and I have since moved on to assisting with the new website transition and creating the next State of the Science update. Next semester, I’ll be putting together a few informational pages for the website and assisting with other community outreach efforts. I intend to stay involved with AOOS and the OA Network after graduation and I hope to contribute to the Alaska OA community throughout my career.
Stephanie Mason (Kodiak Area Native Association)
Meet Stephanie Mason
Stephanie Mason is the regional environmental coordinator for Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) and has helped launch an OA community sampling effort on Kodiak.
Q: Kodiak has recently started a community-sampling program for ocean acidification. Can you tell us about it?
Currently Kodiak Archipelago has three (soon to be four) active discrete sampling sites where seawater is collected on a weekly basis for testing of ocean acidification (OA) chemistry (PCO2 and TCO2). All three discrete sampling locations are in villages, only accessible by boat or plane; Native Village of Old Harbor, Native Village of Larsen Bay, and Native Village of Ouzinkie. The sampling program is coordinated by Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) and NOAA- Kodiak’s Laboratory is responsible for analyzing samples, providing equipment and technical support. The actual sampling in these communities is conducted by the Tribal Environmental Program Coordinators and volunteers.
Q: How did Kodiak decide to get involved?
A little over two years ago, I was hired on as Environmental Coordinator with the responsibility of providing technical and programmatic assistance to Kodiak Tribes with and without environmental programs. The environmental priorities of the Tribes became mine as well, marine water quality being one of them.
Soon after taking on this position at KANA and recognizing the priorities of the Tribes, I sat down with Dr. Bob Foy who was the Director of the Kodiak Laboratory of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (NOAA) at the time. Knowing Kodiak Laboratory had one of few Burke-o-lator’s, and knowing Dr. Foy’s background knowledge on the effects of OA on crustaceans, I thought he would be the ideal person to discuss the possibility of a community science OA monitoring program for Kodiak Archipelago.
Dr. Foy had envisioned a citizen science program like this years back so it didn’t take long for us to put our brains together, bring in all the right entities and partners and move forward with program logistics. Now two years later we are actively taking samples in three locations with the desire to increase sampling locations.
Q: What’s the commitment like for a community sampler?
Each sampler is requested to sample once a week, using Niskin water samplers to collect the seawater from the surface and the sea floor. They are also trained to use YSI ProDSS, an instrument to take readings of temperature, salinity, pH, oxygen and turbidity again, at both the surface and seafloor. The readings on the YSI ProDSS are recorded on a data log.
Q: What happens to the samples?
After the samples are collected, they are stored in the villages until they have about a month’s worth and then the samplers put the bottles and YSI data logs on a flight into Kodiak. (Special thanks to our transporters, Island Air) KANA’s currier then picks the samples up, brings them to KANA where they are stored in my office until Cary Mason who is the newest “Burkolater tender” in Kodiak can come retrieve them and analyze them.
Q: What are project goals and objectives?
– Foster OA resiliency awareness to support sustainable coastal communities through collection and monitoring of baseline water quality components such as: ocean carbonate chemistry, temperature, salinity, turbidity, and nutrient concentration/availability data.
– To adapt to the effects of ocean acidification and ocean warming, advocate for innovative research on subsistence and commercial marine resources, promote data sharing, and encourage collaboration between Tribes, state, and federal resource managers.
– Provide education, outreach and documentation to Kodiak Tribes, schools, and communities based on data collected and via other Alaskan oceanic observations.
Q: Do you have a sense of how Kodiak residents feel about ocean acidification? Is it something people are talking about?
Ocean acidification is definitely rising to the surface when it comes to talk on the streets and basic citizen awareness in Kodiak. I think we can all say the climate change is among us and we are seeing some drastic impacts to our ecosystem, especially marine. The direct impact to individuals is opening everyone’s eyes and starting great dialogue. We are looking forward to ‘Adapt Kodiak’, facilitated by Davin Holen (Alaska Sea Grant) this fall where the dialogue can be discussed even further between experts and locals.
Q: Any advice for a community who is thinking about joining the OA community-based sampling network in Alaska?
Ask for help, ask questions, and ask others who are involved or who have started up monitoring programs themselves. We can all learn from one another and get more accomplished when working efficiently together–no need to recreate the wheel! Our monitoring program would not be where its at without the help of EPA funds, NOAA, Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Alaska OA Network support. All OA experts and entities have been so receptive to help us out in the early and current stages of the program.
Also, try not to be intimidated. It can get scary with complex science-y terminology and experts knowledge but you too can become an expert with time. It is amazing what passion can drive you to do, especially when it is a common goal of many. We are all in this together.
Cale Miller (UC Davis PhD student)
Meet Cale Miller
Cale Miller is a PhD student at UC Davis who has been studying ocean acidification in Kachemak Bay with Dr. Amanda Kelley at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to study OA in Alaska
I was first introduced to OA research during my undergrad at Oregon State University, which just happened to be my first ever research experience. I continued on the OA path during my masters where I gained more insight of the research objectives and direction of the community: coastal and ecosystems vulnerable to high OA impact. From this perspective, Alaska was an obvious location as it was lacking preliminary information on the response of native Alaskan species to OA, and an understanding of coastal OA dynamics. Alaska is at the forefront of rapid change with respect to OA due to its oceanography and geography. After completing my master’s work at Western Washington University, I took a position in Dr. Amanda Kelley’s newly established lab at the University of Alaska Fairbanks as a research assistant. My role as a research assistant was to assist in several experiments examining juvenile bivalve response to OA, and develop operating procedures for autonomous pH sensor data analysis. Several of these experiments were carried out in partnership with the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, AK.
Q: What drew you towards this topic, and what has your focus been?
I was first intrigued by the applied aspect of the research. I was captivated by its orientation with climate change, and liked how there was a potential to bridge biology and chemistry. My initial focus around OA dealt with the shell building response of oysters, clams, and mussels. My research since this time has shifted toward how biological photosynthesis and respiration modify acidification on short time scales in nearshore systems. This usually involves the deployment of autonomous sensors, or putting on waders, getting stuck in the mud, and filling bottles of water.
Q: A new OA lab was just set up in the Kasistna Bay Laboratory. Tell us about it, and your role in the effort.
In May of 2019 I was part of Dr. Amanda Kelley’s team to install an ocean change experimental system (OCES) at the Kasitsna Bay Field station. This work was funded by an NSF facilities improvement grant with the goal of providing researchers both within and outside Alaska to carryout pertinent multi-stressor studies. The system has the ability to manipulate temperature and CO2, salinity and oxygen concentration, and combine various treatments for those interested in doing multi-stressor experiments. The versatility of the system allows for treatments to be static or variable depending on the question the researcher wants to ask. I have set up a portable version of this system multiple times with Dr. Kelley when collaborating with the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, so having this as a permanent install at Kasitsna Bay is real step forward for Alaska OA researchers. My role for this install was to set up, calibrate, and write protocols and calculation spreadsheets for the analytical instruments used to measure pH and alkalinity. These instruments are top-of-the-line, and provide a real benefit to researchers conducting experiments on the OCES to produce water chemistry data in real-time.
Q: There’s been a lot of interest in the potential for sea grass or kelp to help mitigating OA on a localized scale. I understand you started a project in Jakalof Bay looking into the effect of sea grass on carbonate chemistry. Can you tell us more?
Yes, this certainly has been a hot topic of conversation the past few years. The underlying notion is that macrophytes such as kelp and seagrass are able to raise pH during daylight hours by taking up CO2; but these systems create rich habitats for other organisms who breathe CO2, which amplify the input of CO2 to the system relative to non-seagrass habitats. That is, these systems rich in CO2 result in asymmetrical responses to the input and output of CO2. This scenario creates an exacerbation of extreme acidification conditions on daily time scales. There is also the effect of residence time which influences how quickly biologically modified water mixes with oceanic source water, which can potentially dampen any high pH signals created by seagrass photosynthesis. The other thing you here is that increasing anthropogenic CO2 will increase seagrass photosynthetic rate and growth, but some of my previous research has shown that you really have to hit the system hard with CO2 to see that benefit. This is due to how CO2 is bound to oxygen and hydrogen under present day and predicted end of the century CO2concentration, as well as the ability of some seagrass species to utilize other forms of bounded CO2. So, I would be very hesitant to say that we will see an increase in photosynthetic rate by seagrass, or that there may be seagrass expansion within this century given the current projections of CO2 increase by the end of the century.
Last summer I located 3 pools within 50 m of each other in the high intertidal zone of Jakolof Bay that were either dense, patchy, or lacking seagrass. It was an ideal system to compare pools and identify how seagrass may modify CO2 on the tidal scale. My first question was what could be driving the disparity between seagrass density, and how quickly, and to what degree, is the CO2 chemistry modified. Most of the research to date has taken the approach of deploying an autonomous pH sensor in seagrass beds, but pH is only one parameter relating to acidification, so I sought to measure several parameters on a high-resolution time scale.
Q: Did your results show any surprises?
Yes, preliminary results show a decoupling of the chemical system we identify with acidification, and this effect becomes more extreme the longer the residence time. For example, if I were to just measure two parameters and calculate the other chemical parameters (which is typically standard practice), the calculated value would be far off from what I actually measured. It was pretty shocking to see how rapidly some of these parameters changed. I am just beginning to work up the data, so you’ll have to check back in later so I can give an update. I think a take away at this point, is that measuring just pH is not giving us the whole story, and hypothesizing how seagrass or kelp may potentially mitigate OA needs to be more nuanced by describing the whole system identified with acidification, rather than just pH.
Q: What’s your level of hope for sea grass or kelp as a mitigator?
Currently, I am very skeptical for the reasons I have stated above. I came into this question a few years ago as a proponent for seagrass OA mitigation. But based on my own research and that of others, my perspective has shifted against this potential benefit of seagrass or kelp as a solution to OA over the past couple years.
Q: Do you have any particularly memorable moments in the lab or in the field?
I think one of my most memorable moments doing field work was in 2015 when I was a master’s student, and my lab at WWU was collaborating on a project with Washington State DNR investigating eelgrass habitat for oyster larvae. We would paddle out in the middle of the night on kayaks and anchor ourselves down while pumping 5 gallons of water into a bucket situated on my lap. This took about two hours, and as the sun broke, I would watch the crows torment the bald eagles just on shore. It was honestly quite a spectacle to see crows dive bombing bald eagles that invaded their space. There was something quite peaceful about this experience that I really appreciated.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone thinking about graduate school in the field of ocean acidification?
The OA field has really shifted away from running single stressor experiments on organisms. Areas gaining traction are looking at multi-stressors, impacts of OA variability on sensitive life-stages, and sensitivity projections. I think the latter is an area that’s really lacking, but seen as the next step. For example, OA researchers are partnering with aquaculture industry as a means to improve industry output. That is, improve conditions for shellfish affected by OA. This entails developing sensitivity projections – essentially models that can take current acidification “weather” conditions, and provide real-time analysis of potential harmful current conditions. We are definitely not there yet, but there are a few people working on this issue. In Alaska, the first step is to improve our monitoring capabilities and infrastructure, particularly in estuaries if we are talking about shellfish aquaculture. I see these as good directions to go if looking to get into OA research.
Natalie Monacci (UAF Ocean Acidification Research Center)
Meet Natalie Monacci
Natalie Monacci is the Deputy Director of the Ocean Acidification Research Center (OARC) at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks where she has been managing all OARC activities since 2010. Natalie took some time to answer some questions about her interests and insights.
Q: What drew you to the study of ocean acidification in Alaska?
As a chemical oceanographer, my specialty has always been the carbon cycle, though in various forms. Really old carbon, new carbon, in the mud, from plants. Now, I focus on carbon in the water. This was new for me when I started working at the Ocean Acidification Research Center (OARC) seven years ago. My interest in OA has persisted because there is still so much to figure out.
Q: Tell us more about your role — what element do you work on and where?
My official title is Deputy Director of OARC, which means I work on all of our projects. I handle logistics, equipment maintenance, and data collection. Our group has two basic means of data collection: collecting discrete water samples, these we bring back and analyze at the lab in Fairbanks; and deploying autonomous sensors, which are logging data while at sea. Both of these approaches require a lot of planning and calibration. We work on all three coasts, Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and the Arctic Ocean, so we have a lot coming and going across the state at any given time.
Q: What are some of the most notable things you’ve learned about OA in Alaska or in general?
I have learned and relearned that Alaska is a really big and dynamic place. Our oceans have it all, near shore, deep water, coral reefs, major rivers, sea ice. You can see very different characteristics as you move from Southeast to the Arctic. All of our oceans are connected, but there can be distinct characteristics in each region. It is a lot of water to cover.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges in your work?
One of my first big projects at OARC was launching the Alaska OA Mooring Network. The sensors we were working with had never been deployed in high latitudes. We were hoping for success, while bracing for failure. We got both. Learning to move chemistry from a laboratory environment to a sensor you leave in the ocean, while expecting it to not only work, but also to be precise and accurate, has definitely been challenging for our field. Add ice, wind, and waves and you will have all your engineering partners on speed dial.
Q: What is a really memorable moment from your time in the field or in the lab?
One day my phone rang and it was a fisherman who read my phone number off a sticker on one of our moorings. We spoke for over an hour about all the sensors we had attached to our surface buoy. I see that same level of interest in all the communities we work with. It is rewarding and propelling to be working on a project that Alaskans and the general public really care about.
Arley Muth (University of Texas PhD Student)
Meet Arley Muth
Arley Muth is a doctoral student studying ocean acidification in the Beaufort Sea. She is part of a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project led by Ken Dunton at the University of Texas looking at lagoons in the Arctic and ecosystem change over time.
Q: Your team just completed 2 years of pH monitoring in the Beaufort Sea. Could you give us a quick rundown of the project?
We work in area known as “the Boulder Patch”, in Stefansson Sound which is just east of Prudhoe Bay. Due to rock coverage in the area, there is a diverse community of invertebrates and seaweeds, including the Arctic endemic kelp, Laminaria solidungula. We are working to understand species distributions and the environmental drivers of near-shore environments. The carbonate chemistry and pH levels of the nearshore Arctic are relatively unknown, but we do know that the colder waters and freshwater input have the potential to drive down pH levels (creating more acidic water). It’s important to document a baseline in order to detect future changes due to ocean acidification.
Q: Tell us a little bit about Boulder Patch. What’s unique about the location you chose?
There are a few things that make the Boulder Patch special. Steffanson sound is shallow and our sites range from 3-7 m. It is a relatively large area of boulders and cobbles that support a diverse benthic (seafloor) community compared to other areas in Stefansson Sound. The Boulder Patch also varies greatly in terms of freshwater influence and we were able to deploy sensors to quantify these differences. From a logistical perspective, we are able to do day trips from Endicott Island which is helpful.
Q: What have you learned from the data so far?
The near-shore Arctic is dynamic! Temperature, salinity, and pH tend to stabilize in the winter under the ice, but there are so many anomalies and drastic changes during break-up and freeze-up. We have two years of data, but both years were very different from each other and it’s going to take more data to understand the patterns.
Q: Does it seem like a particularly acidic area or is it too early to tell?
That is an interesting question! We do see low pH levels in the winter under the ice at the offshore site (>7.8). However, the inshore site with lower salinity levels tended to have higher pH values and that was due to the pH values of the Sagavanirktok River (<8). It’s an interesting dataset and seasonality drives the variations we see.
Q: What’s the plan for publishing or sharing the findings from the project?
The data has been calibrated, analyzed and our manuscript is in draft form. We have been working with Amanda Kelley at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and together we hope to submit this dataset for publication by the end of the year.
Q: Are there any special challenges studying pH in the coastal Arctic?
The main challenge was using oceanographic equipment to measure pH in an area that becomes very fresh (salinity below 5) each year during break-up. We weren’t sure how the sensors would do with a year-long deployment, in cold water, under the ice and in low salinity conditions. We ran into a few issues, but for the most part the sensors were able to complete year-long deployments.
Q: Please tell us about a memorable moment from the field or the lab.
Our first deployment was intense! Our group worked hard to design a mooring that would stay on the bottom, but also included floatation so the sensors could right themselves if hit by ice. We deployed our first sensor, but Dr. Ken Dunton (the PI of the project) wasn’t sure there was enough weight to keep the sensors in place. We had a big storm roll through and went back to check on the instruments and Ken found them about 30 m from where they were deployed! More weight was added and both sensors were retrieved the following summer. You quickly learn not to take any data or instruments for granted. Each summer it was such a relief to retrieve the instruments and have them safe in the lab for a few weeks before leaving them for another winter.
Jennifer Newby (NOAA AFSC)
Meet Jennifer Newby
Jennifer Newby is a fisheries biologist for NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Kodiak who is working on crab response to ocean acidification through the Shellfish Assessment Program.
Q: How did you get into the ocean acidification field?
While I’d heard about ocean acidification (OA) from colleagues working on Caribbean coral reef systems, I didn’t dive into the world of OA myself until I traveled north to Alaska. I worked briefly as an Onboard Oceanography Coordinator out of Homer, and while teaching all ages of students about the role of OA in coastal communities and the projected effects on planktonic marine life, I started to better understand the implications — not just for the marine species, but for Alaskan livelihoods and the local economy as well.
Q: Tell us a little about the Kodiak Lab…
The Kodiak Lab is home to an incredibly research-rich seawater lab that supports a wide-diversity of projects on topics including ocean acidification, crab reproduction and growth, aquaculture and mariculture, just to name a few. The seawater lab complex pumps in water from directly behind our facility, and provides constant flow-through of filtered and raw seawater to support our many crab, groundfish and invertebrates housed at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center. In recent years, about three researchers have been focused on OA work here at our laboratory with the help of two full-time biological technicians, who help keep all our experiments running smoothly throughout the year.
Q: What’s a normal day like for you?
There’s not exactly a normal day to describe at the Kodiak Lab. The lab has a very dynamic environment with new projects set-up every few months, our annual NMFS trawl survey every summer between May-August, and then processing hundreds of crab samples at the end of survey each fall. Whether assessing crab larvae to stage and track their early development, drawing blood from female Red King Crab that recently molted and running tests on a flow cytometer, or taking pictures of oocytes of snow crab collected out in the Eastern Bering Sea, I’m constantly engaged in one of our many, ongoing research projects.
Q: What’s the most challenging or entertaining part about studying crab?
One of the challenges we face daily in the laboratory as part of the Shellfish Assessment Program is trying to mimic natural conditions for the commercially important Alaskan crab species we study. These crab inhabit not only different depths, and varying temperatures, but also migrate and are effected by ice edge retreat and cold pool formation. We are still learning much about each crab species today and we do our best in the laboratory setting to closely mirror the conditions these crab would be experiencing in the wild. As water temperatures around Kodiak Island elevate in the summer, we have to very closely monitor our temperature loggers and manipulate incoming water flow and chiller set-ups to ensure that all our experiments continue to reflect natural conditions in the Bering Sea. It takes a team of attentive researchers to keep the lab running smoothly all year long.
Q: If you could give advice to a student going into the ocean acidification field, what would you tell them?
The best advice I can give for any student of marine science, fisheries, or ocean acidification is to get out there and network! Reach out. Ask questions. Meet researchers, managers, project leads in person and introduce yourself. Don’t send an email if you’re nearby and could walk in a laboratory or an office. Learn from them. Learn about opportunities, however small, to work in their labs or volunteer for fieldwork. Demonstrate your interest, a good work ethic, and a respectful attitude and you will find yourself surrounded by many colleagues and mentors who will bolster you throughout your career.
Stephen Payton (Seldovia Village Tribe)
Meet Stephen Payton
Stephen Payton has been collecting weekly water samples for ocean acidification research in his home community of Seldovia, in partnership with the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you and your community got involved in OA sampling
I’m the Fisheries Technician for the Seldovia Village Tribe. Before beginning to work for the Tribe I worked as a seasonal employee for Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association at a weir in Seward and at the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery.
Ocean Acidification (OA) has been on people’s minds for a while. In Seldovia there’s a long history of everyone highly relying on the ocean for food and for work. The Seldovia area has seen huge declines in clams and shellfish in the area that is attributed to over fishing mostly. Some shellfish are beginning to come back to levels capable of sustaining a small harvest. So OA is scary as a new threat to our marine resources. Seldovia Village Tribe’s Environmental Department have been helping Jeff Hetrick and Roger Painter with some prior projects they were working on at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery (APSH) and they approached us about collecting water samples as part of their project, and we were more than happy to join in.
Q: From the citizen scientist standpoint, what does water sampling for ocean acidification involve?
Jacqueline Ramsay with APSH provided us with a kit that has all the equipment we need to collect and preserve water samples. Once a week my co-worker Jan Yaeger or I go down to the float plane dock here in Seldovia and use a water grab to collect a sample. We hold the samples until we have a dozen or more and then they get shipped back to Jacqueline at APSH. We try to be as consistent as possible going once a week and around the same time. While we’re there we also collect water samples for Rosie Robinson at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (KBNERR) to monitor for harmful algal blooms. So we get to help out in two ways.
Q: What have you learned so far about the results from your community?
Jacqueline, Jeff, and Roger have been great to work with and always keep us up to date on their results. We have been told our data has been great because of the consistency throughout the project. As Jacqueline stated in her interview they found a trend in saturation state in summer versus winter months. I believe Jeff had stated that what they’re finding is very close to what they had predicted.
Q: Are people talking about ocean acidification in Seldovia, and if so, what are their thoughts?
OA is talked about in Seldovia. I feel fishermen are particularly interested because of the effects OA could have on their jobs. People are interested and want to know if, how, and when it could affect the marine life they rely on. I know one person who had been thinking of getting into oyster farming but decided not to because with advancing OA they don’t think it will be viable in the future. A lot of times, especially in the summer, people come by and ask us what we’re fishing for or what we’re doing. So we have been able to inform many people, locals and tourists, about OA and APSH’s efforts.
Q: What keeps you committed to this program?
I think I stay committed to collecting samples for the program because OA is a real issue, it is happening and we need to study and understand it so we know how to react as it progresses. Half an hour or so once a week is all it takes to help others collect some meaningful data. We hope we can use what we have learned from this project to create our own OA project possibly involving clams in an area where SVT has performed a study in the past. We are also interested in starting a kelp project that would involve an OA study.
Will Peterson (Sitka Tribe of Alaska)
Meet Willoughby Peterson
Willoughby Peterson is the Environmental Lab Specialist with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. He runs the ocean acidification monitoring program at the lab and also analyzes water samples collected by other Southeast Alaska communities.
Q: Part of your role is overseeing the Sitka Burke-o-Lator. Could you tell us about what that is, and why Sitka has one?
A Burke-o-Lator is a system that measures the ocean chemistry of seawater to help us better understand ocean acidification and current conditions. Our BoL measures the partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2) and total dissolved inorganic carbon (TCO2) from Sitka Sound as well as bottled samples from other Southeast communities. Ocean water from Sitka Harbor comes into our lab via a pump and a series of PVC pipes, and measurements are taken with several tools including a thermosalinograph (TSG), an equilibrator, and a gas analyzer. The TSG measures temperature and salinity while the equilibrator bubbles water to provide a balance in water-gas vapor pressure, which the gas analyzer uses to measure the concentration of CO2. There is a lot more to it, but these are the main components.
Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) has a Burke-o-Lator because of its ability to provide baseline data on ocean acidification. We know that ocean acidification is happening due to a rising concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and consequently in the ocean as well. What a lot of people don’t realize is that CO2 is more soluble in our cold Alaskan waters. The higher CO2 messes with the natural carbonate chemistry, lowering the pH and causing marine species like shellfish to work harder to build their shells. As the ocean becomes more acidic, shells become thinner, growth slows down and death rates rise, which can affect food resources for people.
Q: We’ve heard Burke-o-Lator care is not straight forward and that measurements have to be really precise. Could you explain more?
The instruments used in the Burke-o-Lator are very sensitive to little changes in the properties of the water. For instance, when I’m analyzing samples from partner communities around Southeast, I must check that they were properly sealed, the temperatures are recorded, and that no bubbles are forming a vapor lock when the machine is running. These all affect how the system measures the amount of CO2 in a sample. If a sample doesn’t get a proper seal, the ambient CO2 will begin to dissolve into the sample, and it won’t be representative of the ocean conditions for that site and date. The same is true for missing temperatures because temperature is a main factor in the capacity of water to dissolve gasses. Our Burke-o-Lator is finicky at times, and if I’m not being observant about little things and staying patient it can get upset.
Q: Do you have a particularly memorable moment with the Burke-o-Lator, or in your job?
There was this one time when we finished doing maintenance on a gas scrubber and when I turned the machine back on, the top of the scrubber popped off in a very dramatic way, blowing soda lime dust in all directions. At first, I thought I had somehow blown up the whole thing, but it wasn’t that bad. I just needed to adjust the air pressure and make a better seal on the scrubber.
My favorite moment working for STA was this past summer when we caught over 500 sockeye salmon up Necker Bay with an impromptu beach seining venture. We were counting, processing, and distributing salmon for days, which is a lot of hard work but very fulfilling to see it go to people’s tables.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved in ocean acidification.
My path to ocean acidification is a bit serendipitous; it wasn’t explicitly in my plans but the opportunities along the way were easy choices that eventually helped me find my way here. I grew up in Sitka and always knew I would return someday to help lead in the protection of our environmental resources. I studied environmental engineering and earth sciences at the University of California Irvine, graduating in 2013. From 2014 to 2017 I worked for the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council in brownfield tribal response projects, which are contaminated sites along the Yukon River with cleanup and reuse goals.
The work up north was remarkable and fulfilling but I couldn’t scratch the itch I had for wanting to be in Southeast Alaska. In 2018 I found a seasonal position in a program called Training Rural Alaska Youth Leaders & Students, in which I helped lead three high school age students to implement stream restoration around Baranof Island with the US Forest Service. After the projects finished I wanted to stay in Sitka so I worked for the Sitka Sound Science Center as the Research Coordinator and SIRF Director, which exposed me to a lot of the amazing research happening in Southeast Alaska, including the STA Environmental Research Lab. I honestly didn’t realize how much STA had expanded their scientific arms since I had left Sitka in 2008.
After speaking with Esther Kennedy several times about her position and the fact that it’d be open because she would be moving to pursue a PhD, I knew I had to apply. I was particularly attracted to the intersection of ocean research and protection of subsistence food. As a tribal citizen motivated to protect our natural resources the decision was obvious to me. This June it will be a year since I started and I’m so grateful for all the twists and turns that finally led me to here.
Q: How do you think people view ocean acidification in Sitka?
I think there are several general camps of thought, but I don’t think there is a unified understanding of the current state of ocean acidification in Southeast Alaska. We’re working to help change this by providing data. When I speak to people, if they know anything about ocean acidification, they tend to understand why it’s happening but aren’t sure to what extent they should be concerned. I believe once people have access to reliable high-resolution data, the perspectives of people will take more form and allow for sensible solutions.
Q: What do you think is the most valuable part of community-based research in Southeast Alaska?
There are so many benefits to community-based research that it would be difficult to pin down one best aspect. However, I do believe it is incredibly valuable that the sampling and research is being conducted by people who have lived here for decades and most of them have tribal ancestry that goes back thousands of years. This gives confidence to the leaders and decision-makers that will one day rely on our data to conduct additional research and implement solutions to help mitigate the harmful impacts of climate change.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
I would just like to say that despite what people may believe about why the climate is changing, it is undeniable that it is always evolving. The planet is a complex system, so change doesn’t happen in just one direction – everything is in flux. We play a role in that equation, especially with our greenhouse gas emissions. The best way forward is to work together on understanding and adapting. This requires a lot of sacrifices in comfort, but in the long run I believe it will make our lives more efficient and healthier.
Darren Pilcher (NOAA PMEL)
Meet Darren Pilcher
Darren Pilcher is a research scientist with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab who is currently working on modeling OA in the Bering Sea.
Q: How did you get into the field of OA?
In graduate school, I studied the processes that determine the exchange of carbon between the water and the atmosphere. The oceans provide a critical service by taking up a portion of the carbon that we emit into the atmosphere, but unfortunately this process also results in ocean acidification. I was interested in understanding how this process will affect ocean ecosystems, particularly in high-latitude waters such as Alaska, where OA and climate change are occurring more rapidly.
Q: What kind of background to you need for the modeling work you do?
I was a chemistry major as an undergraduate, so you don’t necessarily need a computer science degree, however you do need a strong background in mathematics and physical science since this is the language that our computational models are written and operated in.
Q: You’re working on one of the only forecast models for ocean acidification for Alaska. Can you tell us more about the scope of your project and what you’re trying to do?
Our current, best estimates for forecasting and projecting OA into the future are based on global climate models, which work well at the global scale, but can struggle in coastal regions that are more complex. I’m using a regional model of the Bering Sea, which provides much better spatial resolution (i.e. the size of each grid cell in the model) and also includes some of these processes that we know are important for the Bering Sea ecosystem. The goal is to use this model to produce projections of OA in the Bering Sea, which incorporate this regional information. I also hope to eventually use this model to produce seasonal forecasts of ocean water conditions 9-months in advance.
Q: Some people are unfamiliar with the concept of a hindcast. Can you tell us what that means and why it’s important?
A hindcast is when we use a model to simulate past conditions, as opposed to a forecast or projection where we are simulating future conditions. We run these to verify that our models are operating correctly and to assess how accurate they are by comparing the model produced ocean conditions to data collected at the same place and time from ships, moorings, and autonomous instruments. Once we verify that the models are successfully reproducing the observed conditions, we can then also use the hindcast to analyze long term historical trends, understand critical mechanisms, and/or fill in data gaps.
Q: How might the forecast you’re working on help Alaskans?
Being able to successfully forecast where and when OA will impact Alaskan waters can be very helpful towards preparing for these anticipated conditions and ultimately working towards maintaining crucial ecosystem services, such as fisheries. This information can also be used to better understand the conditions that species may be under in the future, allowing us to better tailor and refine our biological experiments.
Q: What are some of the challenges of modeling ocean acidification in Alaska?
There are a ton of dynamic, complex processes that impact OA in Alaska, which make the region relatively challenging but also more interesting to study. The seasonal advance and retreat of sea ice, river water runoff from the Yukon and Kuskokwim, and biological interactions between surface waters and the shelf bottom all play critical roles in determining the water chemistry and OA. To accurately model these processes, we need sufficient spatial resolution, a way to represent the processes mathematically, and thorough observational data to both inform and help validate these models.
Jacqueline Ramsay (Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery)
Meet Jacqueline Ramsay
Jacqueline Ramsay manages the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery’s Ocean Acidification & Research Laboratory in Seward. Formerly a researcher for UAF at the Seward Marine Center, she joined the hatchery in 2012 and maintains the constant monitoring system. Jacqueline runs and analyzes discrete seawater samples from villages and partners in the Chugach, North Slope and PWS areas, and serves on the AOOS Tribal Research Working Group.
Q: You work with a high tech machine called a Burke-o-Lator (BoL). Could you tell us about them?
Burke-o-Lators are systems that were invented by Professor Burke Hales of Oregon State University to measure the carbonate chemistry of seawater, in both gas and dissolved form. These systems are state of the art and unique in that they deliver real time raw data that hatcheries can use to determine the corrosivity of their incoming seawater with respect to the saturation state of shell forming carbonate minerals that shellfish larvae need to grow. The saturation state of these minerals is driven by water temperature and alkalinity which can fluctuate from a variety of environmental influences.
A great feature of the BoL is that it can also be used to analyze discreet seawater samples to assess the carbonate composition of a particular site, such as a specific hatchery tank where we are culturing oysters, or a beach for habitat assessment data.
Q: Why is it important to have a Burke-o-Lator at the hatchery in Seward?
The crashes in oyster cultivation along the west coast triggered us to begin monitoring our incoming seawater for baseline water chemistry trends here in Resurrection Bay. APSH supports a diversity of research at our facility as well as growing seed larvae for aquaculture needs, so monitoring for OA was a necessary step to protect our shellfish inventory and provide state of the art monitoring equipment for visiting researchers. The diversity of species that APSH produces in conjunction with the BoL gives the hatchery the capacity to expand research to include multi species saturation experiments. It’s a powerful tool which can allow us to adjust the mineral composition in our tanks appropriately.
Q: Through the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, you work with communities around the region. Can you tell us more about that?
The hatchery is a non-profit entity under the umbrella of the Chugach Regional Resources Commission whose mission is to assure stewardship of the natural resources in the Chugach region. To identify sites of concern and obtain baseline data of OA vulnerability, we developed a citizen science monitoring program through a BIA grant. Basically we developed a sampling kit with sampling protocols that can be used by individuals of all walks of life. We have a number of sites where partners are taking samples in their respective villages that I process here at APSH. The data is subsequently analyzed by Wiley Evans at the Hakai Institute.
Q: What have you learned so far through the community sampling program?
At times it can be difficult to coordinate the development of a long term data set, which is what we need to uncover trends for a particular locale. When we completed the analysis from Seldovia, a site with a long term data set, we found clear trends of increased saturation state in the summer months vs the winter months. This could influence management decisions for habitats of concern for Seldovia. The program has been an invaluable tool for engaging the villages with discussions about OA and in a broader context of climate change as it pertains to their subsistence way of life.
We also found that, as far as sample integrity with these kits, community sampling can work. That was an important validation.
Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge in your job?
It’s a new science, and I’m relatively new to it , which is stimulating. However, I find conveying the seriousness of increased anthropogenic carbon in our atmosphere and more importantly, the timeframe with which it is happening, difficult. It’s a crucial subject as our world population grows, and our energy demands increase.
Q: Can you tell us about a memorable moment in your experience working with OA?
The OA lab here at the hatchery follows the protocols developed by distinguished scientists and pioneered by other labs such as Oregon State University, NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab and the Hakai Institute. It was a great moment when Wiley Evans confirmed through inter-lab comparisons that our data was on par with the accuracy of these laboratories.
Ashley Rossin (UAF PhD student)
Meet Ashley Rossin
Ashley Rossin is a PhD student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, studying the effect of ocean acidification on bivalves with Dr. Amanda Kelley. Her research is funded by Alaska Sea Grant.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got interested in ocean acidification.
I was always interested in science as a kid, and I was constantly asking questions. When I was 14 I went SCUBA diving for the first time, and I was amazed at the colors and the life that lived just below the surface. In the midst of that, I saw a stark white coral head, and didn’t understand why it was white. When we surfaced, I asked the dive master about it, and he explained coral bleaching, and how it was happening more and more often due to the increase in temperature. I started looking into it more, and learned that tropical corals bleach due to their symbiotic algae leaving during stress, but there was a type of coral that didn’t have that algae. I wondered what was going to happen to them with climate change. From there I found a researcher at UMaine who studied human impacts on cold-water corals. I did my undergrad and masters with her.
When she described the masters project to me for the first time, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. After my masters work, I still had so many questions about the whole process of OA on cold-water calcifiers. I wanted to continue my education, and I wanted to continue asking questions about OA. Then I found Amanda Kelley, and luckily, she found my curiosity endearing, and here we are!
Q: I understand you’re working on a clam project. Could you tell us more?
Clams throughout Alaska are incredibly important as both a commercial use, but they are of traditional significance as well. Throughout the state of Alaska, clam populations have been in decline for over 20 years, and we aren’t really sure why. This will soon be coupled with increasing effects from climate change, both in temperature and ocean acidification. We also know that larvae and juveniles are especially susceptible to these effects, which can have negative implications for future populations.
We ran a 24-day experiment on two different clam species (the basket cockle and littleneck clam) to study their responses to OA. We had two treatments: the current or ambient pH (7.97 pH units) and predicted pH for 2100 in the region (7.67 pH units). We collected at multiple different time points because cells respond to stress in a fast response and slow response, and we wanted to capture it all. We are analyzing the cellular response through quantitative polymerase chain reactions (qPCR). This allows us to see the “real-time” expression of response proteins through the expression of RNA. To help you picture it, imagine you walk outside in Alaska in the winter, your body immediately tenses, and shivers. The cells in your body are experiencing a stress acting on them, and immediately respond to conserve body heat. This is possible by the RNA sequences for shivering and curling up increasing their expression in response to the stress. However, over time, your body would likely acclimate, and some of those initial responders wouldn’t be necessary anymore. That’s essentially what we are looking at with qPCR on the stress response of these clams.
We are also using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to study the surface topography of the shells to see if we see any signs of dissolution. Dissolution can occur when the water is undersaturated with respect to aragonite, which means the carbonate that the shells are composed of, are not readily available. This can cause the shell to dissolve.
Another aspect that can change for clams, is the composition of their shell. Other mollusks have been seen to switch from shells primarily composed of calcium carbonate, to be composed of magnesium calcite or introduce strontium as well. To study this, we are using laser ablation inductively coupled mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) which shoots a laser at a shell, and the beam that comes off of the shell can tell a computer the element concentration from where the laser hit.
What do we know so far about clam response to OA?
From the scientific literature, we know that clams’ responses to OA is highly variable. From what we know from other species, we were able to come up with our methods of analysis, since this is the first study on either of my species. From my data personally, you’ll have to wait and hear my talk at AMSS! I’ve attached two photos of shell topography as a sort of spoiler. The left shell is the ambient treatment, and right shell refers to the 2100 pH. Anything that looks spongy or pitting is the shell dissolving…
Q: How has the citizen science element of your project been going?
We just launched the program and are looking for participants in all part of the state! The protocol is fairly straight forward – we want people to mark the clams they see anywhere along our expansive coast. Even if you aren’t comfortable identifying the species, you can still contribute. The goal is to do our best to document clam distribution, and we are encouraging people who are beach walking or clamming to open up Epicollect5 and search for “Clam Survey” and put in any species they are seeing. The app is really easy to use, and when you elect to “add a data point” it leads you through all of the questions, none of them are required to answer, but any information you can give is really helpful. In order to increase our internet presence, we created a Facebook page where we hope will help us engage with everyone a little more. It’s tricky to get people out in the mudflats in the middle of winter, but we have a lot of positive responses to our page and project, so we’re really excited for spring and summer! You can find more info on the project website.
Q: Is there a certain part of the state where you’re looking to get more coverage? If someone wanted to participate, how could they get involved?
I don’t know if there’s a particular region I’d like more coverage for compared to others, but I do hope to get some points from the northern coast, I’d really like to know what’s going on with their shellfish up there! To participate, you can download the epicollect5 app, it’s free to both android and iphone users. From there you’ll need to create an account, then you can search for “Clam Survey” and you’ll see us! Whenever any user is out on a beach, we hope that they remember the app and project, and start digging around for clams! We hope people attach photos to their posts, and just get excited about what they’re seeing. If they have any questions, they can message the facebook page or just email me directly. If anyone wants to check the progress of the points on the map, they can go to the LEO Network site and search clam survey to see the map coming together!
I know that’s kind of specific to people with access to the coast, so for anyone without direct access to water, I’d just ask that they share the project with anyone who is, and keep the project in mind for if they take a vacation. A big part of how we respond to OA will be how informed the public is, and we already know Alaskans are aware of the problems and are willing to help, we want to continue to share our research and findings, so they can be as informed as possible. The work I do in the lab doesn’t mean much if we can’t connect it back to the people who I’m doing it for.
Q: Can you tell us about a memorable moment in the lab or in the field?
This past finals week we went down to Kasitsna Bay Labs to do maintenance on the oceanographic sensors we have as well as to do my first round of water collections for my project. To collect the water, it has to be dead low tide, which meant going out at 1 and 2 am two nights in a row and running a 100ft line across the beach at the water line to collect samples. It was myself and an undergrad, Alyx Gough, and the first night we went out, it was absolutely dumping snow.
We trudged through the foot or so of snow that had fallen that night, and out to the low tide line with our headlamps on, full snow suits and foot and hand warmers, and took 40 water samples. It was so cold, and the vials were so small we had to keep taking off a glove to get traction, but it was so fun and a really great way to start my fieldwork!
Q: Any advice for a grad student entering the field of ocean acidification?
Reading about OA day in and day out can get really depressing. It seems like even when a species has no response in one aspect of their life, another aspect is slowed or shut down. It can be hard to take. But it’s also amazing that every single day new papers are coming out on various species or regions and their response to OA. How cool is that? OA is a big problem and it’ll be challenging to fix, but so many people care about it. There are tons of researchers looking into this, so we’re ready for what’s to come. And it’s amazing to be a part of it.
Also, pay attention during your chemical oceanography classes, and thank me later.
Sherry Tamone (UAS)
Meet Sherry Tamone
Sherry Tamone is a crustacean physiologist at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau who recently started studying the affects of OA on shrimp.
Q: We hear you’re launching a new project on OA and shrimp. What will you be testing and what are your hypotheses?
I recently received funding from Alaska Sea Grant to study the potential effects of ocean acidification and warming temperatures on the physiology of the Northern spot shrimp (Pandalus platyceros). My lab is interested in the physiology of molting (growth) and we know that molting is an energetically expensive process. We think that living in a warming and increasingly acidic environment will have a metabolic cost to growing animals. We will test this hypothesis using juvenile spot shrimp that may be most susceptible since they need to molt more often.
Q: How do you run this type of experiment?
This is a great question because in order to run this experiment you need to have newly settled juvenile shrimp. We actually collect females with embryos with the help of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in late November and keep them fed in our seawater laboratory at the University of Alaska Southeast. When the embryos hatch, we spend about 60 days caring for them through their planktonic larval stages until they undergo a metamorphosis and settle to the bottom of their tanks. At this point, they are quite small, but ready for the experiments. The experiments require that the juvenile shrimp be exposed to normal seawater, warmed seawater, acidified seawater, and warmed acidified seawater. After exposures, the metabolic rates of all shrimp will be measured to see if any of the treatments have effects on their metabolic physiology.
Q: We know you’re putting together a flow-through system to simulate changes in temperature and pH and these are challenging to build. What have you found so far, and do you have any tips for people trying to replicate this process?
Yes, because we have a limited budget we had to build our own pH control systems. We are collaborating with Dr. Kirt Onthank at Walla Walla University who has experience in building low cost pH stat systems for monitoring and controlling the carbon dioxide chemistry of the seawater tanks. The challenge to these experiments is adding CO2 into the flow-through system at just the correct concentration to maintain conditions of ocean acidification. This does require one to measure the chemistry of the seawater regularly to make certain that the desired environmental conditions are remaining stable. While the cost of the controllers is reasonable, the time required to build these units is significant! Be prepared to become an expert at soldering, working with computer boards, cutting PVC pipes and plumbing!
Q: Please tell us about yourself and what led to your interest in ocean acidification.
I am a crustacean physiologist (endocrinologist) who has spent my adult years studying growth and reproduction in crabs, shrimps, and lobsters. I was always fascinated by the complex physiology of molting of crustaceans in graduate school in California. When I moved to Alaska, I learned more about cold-water physiology and how it impacted the coordination of molting and reproduction (two energetically demanding processes) in the crabs that I was studying. The reality is that invertebrate animals have an energy budget that allows for specific physiological processes and when an external stress (ocean acidification or increased temperature) imposes a metabolic cost, then some physiology will be compromised. As a physiologist, I have been interested in how organisms respond to stress including environmental change and it is difficult to assess change if you do not have data concerning the “normal” or baseline physiology.
Q: I know you work closely with students. How have you involved students in your projects and what advice do you have for students interested in ocean acidification or ocean change?
I have a great lab that includes undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduates begin in my lab learning about shrimp husbandry and helping one another keep the animals healthy. Some students take on specific projects and learn scientific techniques that allow them to perform experiments to test their hypotheses. All of my students read scientific papers to understand the current knowledge of ocean acidification. There are so many avenues for a student to study marine science related to ocean acidification that they should discover what area is most interesting to them. They could be very interested in oceanography or organismal physiology. Those are very different areas of study that both relate to ocean acidification. Students should be prepared to be interdisciplinary in their studies in marine science. My graduate students are required to take courses in biological and chemical oceanography as well as physiology and statistics.
Q: Please tell us about a memorable moment from working with shrimp or marine biology in Southeast Alaska
One of the most rewarding aspects of working with shrimp in Southeast Alaska is getting out in the field, on the ocean to collect the research animals. I can remember setting pots near a small island near Juneau on a warm summer day with humpback whales nearby. Pulling the pots, we would often get more than just our target species and would sometimes have a giant Pacific octopus and beautiful basket stars in the pot. It can be a lot of physical work but very rewarding.
Marina Washburn (UAF PhD student)
Meet Marina Washburn
Marina Washburn is a graduate student working in Amanda Kelley’s lab at UAF, currently conducting research on the impact of larval Pacific razor clams to ocean acidification.
Q: You’re understand you’re looking at the response of razor clams to ocean acidification. Could you tell us more about the study?
Razor clams are found all along Alaska’s southern coast and are a hugely important species in Alaska as they sustain a commercial fishery, support subsistence communities and are the most popular shellfish for recreational harvest in Cook Inlet. In 2015 the recreational fishery on the East side of Cook Inlet was closed due to record low population counts, and the cause is largely unknown. I am really interested in finding out if increasing acidity in coastal Alaskan waters is an obstacle that these organisms are facing. We are running an experiment at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward to look at the impact of low pH water on larval razor clams. I’ll be looking at physiological and morphological indicators of OA stress.
Q: What have you learned so far?
In sifting through the literature it was evident that there are very few studies published on the impact of variable pH on calcifying organisms. In looking at sensor data from Dr. Kelley’s work in Kachemak Bay, and other sensors placed along Alaska’s southern coast, it was obvious that the pH levels in these coastal regions exhibit massive amounts of variability. I have learned a lot about patterns and the extreme conditions we are already seeing in razor clam habitat. Because of this, we have included a variable treatment in our experiment to attempt to mimic similar conditions to what these organisms may actually be experiencing.
Q: Have there been any surprises?
I think the largest surprise I have experienced with this project was in forming time series of the pH data I found from coastal sensors. The variation we’re seeing in these coastal environments often follows extremely recognizable and obvious patterns. I assumed I would see some kind of pattern, but it was surprising to me just how repetitious and obvious these patterns were.
Q: Based on their biology, would you expect razor clams to be more or less susceptible to OA than other shellfish? Why?
This is a difficult question to answer because there is a lack of information regarding the biology of razor clams. However, it is irrefutable that the population on the East coast of Cook Inlet has declined and this must be attributed to something. So, it is possible that they are more susceptible to the impacts of OA than other Alaskan shellfish, and we just don’t know.
Q: Are there any special challenges working with shellfish in the lab environment?
Razor clams, and other shellfish, are used to living in sediment, not the artificial environment we hold them in. They’re used to spawning under environmental cues, so trying to manipulate these conditions to prevent spawning until the precise moment, but still keep the clams happy is quite the balancing act. Temperature of the water, and the amount of food we’re supplying has to be monitored very closely.
Q: Tell us a little about what it’s like to be a grad student researching OA
I sometimes joke that conducting OA experiments is a bit like being a science pioneer, but in a sense that is true. There is only one (on-going) study about the impacts of OA on bivalves in Alaska, and we are still building a coastal monitoring system to cover the whole state. This makes my position really exciting. I am constantly learning new things, but I also get to participate, in a small way, in the contribution to the knowledge base about OA in Alaska. As a fourth-generation Alaskan, it is also really exciting to be able to help answer questions about a species so important to Alaskans, and help educate local communities on the impacts OA can have on the coastal ecosystems we all rely on.
Q: Any particular memorable moments in the lab or in the field?
When I got to Seward, Jeff Hetrick, the hatchery director, informed me that he wasn’t sure it was possible to spawn razor clams. Dr. Kelley and I had spent a year planning this project and it was all based on being able to get larvae, so I was incredibly worried we would be unsuccessful and the whole project would fall apart. The first attempt at spawning was unsuccessful. Just for fun, I tried to spawn again one afternoon, I put gametes into a bucket and put it in a corner and kind of forgot about it. The next morning Dr. Kelley approached my while I was taking water chemistry samples and told me we had swimming trochophores. I couldn’t believe it! They hatched on July 4th, 2018 so it felt like the town of Seward was shooting off fireworks just for the larvae. We have since spawned twice more and both times have been successful. I have even been able to document the stages of development and form a general timeline, which had never been done before, so it’s incredibly exciting.