Our oceans are ever-evolving, driven by both natural processes and human activities. From the air we breathe to the seafood on our table, oceans play a critical role in our everyday lives. Researchers at the University of Washington College of the Environment have deep roots in the ocean sciences and are immersed in understanding its physical, chemical and biological systems, how they are changing and the implications of those changes on marine environments and humans alike.

Ocean acidification

Across the globe, carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels are causing changes to our atmosphere. But it’s not only our atmosphere that is affected — our oceans are impacted too, including through ocean acidification. Worldwide, the ocean provides an invaluable service to the planet by absorbing about 28% of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities. Once absorbed by the ocean, this carbon dioxide undergoes a series of reactions that change seawater chemistry. As a result, the surface ocean has become about 30 percent more acidic over the past 250 years.

EarthLab member the Washington Ocean Acidification Center is leading the region in five priority areas as they relate to Washington: fostering water quality monitoring at shellfish hatcheries, working with scientists to establish an expanded and sustained ocean acidification monitoring network, conducting laboratory studies to assess the causes and effects of ocean acidification on Washington’s species and ecosystems and investigating and developing commercial-scale water treatment methods or hatchery designs to protect larvae from corrosive seawater.

Ocean health across the College

Not only is there tremendous capacity to address ocean health on campus, but the College leverages expertise through numerous connections and partners off-campus that serve to strengthen our work and its impact:

  • Friday Harbor Laboratories on the San Juan Islands is host to the Ocean Acidification Environmental Lab, a unique experimental facility that includes an analytical chemistry laboratory that provides access for researchers both near and far to a state-of-the-art ocean acidification facility in the Salish Sea.
  • The Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean and Ecosystem Studies fosters collaborative efforts between the UW, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The University of Alaska Fairbanks and Oregon State University, centered on four key research themes.
  • UW scientists collaborate with NOAA’s Alaskan and Northwest Fishery Science Centers on issues of fisheries science and management.
  • Washington Sea Grant serves as a conduit of information to and collaboration with communities, industries and the people of the Pacific Northwest and the nation through research, education and outreach.
  • Pacific Northwest Indian Tribes have a cultural connection to Puget Sound and a deep interest in ocean health and collaborate with UW scientists on issues such as salmon and ecosystem recovery and ocean acidification.
  • College scientists advise policy-making bodies on regional, national and international scales, including the International Whaling Commission, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and the Puget Sound Partnership.
  • The Applied Physics Laboratory partners with College of the Environment marine scientists, focusing studies on marine physics and systems science in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Ocean health research at the College of the Environment comes from units across the College, including: