The Washington Ocean Acidification Center recently awarded funding to a local group of oceanographers, giving them the green light to develop an ocean acidification forecasting model for the Pacific Northwest.  The first of its kind, the model will allow aquaculture and natural resource managers to better predict how ocean acidification is taking shape throughout the numerous waterways of our state.

“We are excited to launch this project funded by the Center,” said Jan Newton, the Center’s co-director.  “We are building on existing modeling capability to deliver forecast information on the status of ocean acidification, which will be useful in avoiding some of the harm associated with such conditions.”

In the charge to create the Center, the governor and state legislature outlined five specific actions to be addressed in order to help mitigate and adapt to ocean acidification locally.  One of those actions is to develop a predictive model to forecast when ocean conditions may become unfavorable to the growth and survival of shellfish and other marine creatures.

Under the auspices of the new Center, UW oceanographer Parker MacCready is leading the investigation with Neil Banas and Samantha Siedlecki, both from the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean.

“This project will do two things,” said MacCready. “It will take an existing modeling system that was created to simulate past events, and turn it into a system that continuously predicts ocean conditions up to a week in the future, like a weather forecast.  The other thing it will do is add carbon chemistry into the model.” And those carbon variables relate to ocean acidification.

Armed with a real-time tool to assess acidification conditions, the model will give shellfish growers and marine managers a ‘heads up’ so they can adjust hatchery operations that will allow them to be better prepared for any environmental changes.

Ocean acidification has already been shown to affect shellfish operations, resulting in mass mortality of juvenile oysters at some facilities.  Hatcheries have made some adjustments that have helped the tiny shellfish survive, but this model will allow them to fine tune their adjustments even more, which can have a substantial effect on this $270 million business in Washington State.

In addition to helping shellfish operations and natural resource management, developing the forecast system will increase scientific understanding of the mechanisms driving local ocean acidification conditions and aid in planning for adaptation responses. It can be used to assess the relative magnitude of specific factors, such as upwelling or land-based runoff, that can contribute to the ocean acidification signal.

“This is a product that was recommended by shellfish growers and the scientists on the Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification,” says MacCready.  “Growers wanted a daily forecast specifically.  It is very directly tied to stakeholders who care and are knowledgeable, and they have asked for this capability.”

This work is being performed in close collaboration with regional partners, including shellfish growers, tribes, federal and state agencies, and others in the scientific community.  It will connect with other ongoing oceanographic efforts in our region, like the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, strengthening the predictive capacity in local waters.  In addition, this project brings value for education and outreach, showing that changes in ocean biogeochemistry, the movement of water, and biology all interact to create the signature ocean ecosystems in our state, and support the industries that rely upon them.