August 21, 2009

New ocean woe: acidification

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Alaskan fisheries have a new woe to add to the list: ocean acidification. Research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks indicates Arctic oceans are more susceptible to acidification, reports Douglas Fischer of The Daily Climate. As oceans absorb extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, pH levels drop, making them more acidic. Entire food webs are impacted by changing ocean chemistry – organisms like crabs, corals and oysters are unable to pull minerals out of the water to build shells. Pteropods (tiny swimming sea snails) are already having trouble building shells, and since salmon populations depend on these critters to maintain higher body weights, Alaska’s salmon runs could be in trouble. The acidification could affect the commercial industry as well as the environment, since more than 60 percent of the seafood in the United States comes from Alaska fisheries.

In a related story by Mary Pemberton of the Associated Press, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke halted the expansion of commercial fishing in the Arctic until a sustainable plan to support fishing and the ecosystem could be developed. Obama administration officials are set to conduct a public hearing in Anchorage today about national ocean policy to develop protections and restoration of coasts, oceans and the Great Lakes.

– Emily Linroth

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