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How can education help mitigate ocean acidification?

April 2016

NOAA Climate Stewards students participate in a hands-on activity to understand the impacts of ocean acidification
NOAA Climate Stewards students participate in a hands-on activity to understand the impacts of ocean acidification. Credit: D.J. Kast/University of Southern California

This May, Hobart, Tasmania will attract more than 350 scientists to an international symposium about our changing climate and ocean, particularly focusing on ocean acidification. Together, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Ocean Acidification Program have organized a special outreach session and evening Share-a-Thon to help educators, communicators, and scientists share effective approaches to communicating ocean acidification.

Laura Francis, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary education coordinator and an organizer of this special session, explains that "ocean acidification is an emerging issue that could have far-reaching impacts on the health of our national marine sanctuaries and long-term sustainability of ecosystems that support human populations." With that in mind, she says, “it is critical that educators have access to the latest science information and communication tools on this topic and are able to effectively share the science of ocean acidification, potential impacts, and positive actions with our communities."

shown here in laboratory conditions are (left) a pteropod that has lived for six days in normal waters and (right) a pteropod showing the effects of living in acidified water for the same time period.
Pteropods, or sea butterflies, are a vital food source for salmon and other commercially important fish. Shown here in laboratory conditions are (left) a pteropod that has lived for six days in normal waters and (right) a pteropod showing the effects of living in acidified water for the same time period. The white lines indicate shell dissolution and explain why ocean acidification is often called "osteoporosis of the sea. Credit: NOAA

Pteropods, or sea butterflies, are a vital food source for salmon and other commercially important fish. Shown here in laboratory conditions are (left) a pteropod that has lived for six days in normal waters and (right) a pteropod showing the effects of living in acidified water for the same time period. The white lines indicate shell dissolution and explain why ocean acidification is often called "osteoporosis of the sea." (Image: NOAA)

From sea snails to scallops, many marine species depend on hard shells made from calcium carbonate to protect them from predators, pounding surf and other threats. However, ocean acidification is impacting these shelled organisms, as well as organisms like corals that have with bony calcium carbonate building blocks.

When we burn fossil fuels for energy like oil and gas, we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, some of which is absorbed by the ocean. With more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolving into the ocean, the chemistry of the ocean is changing and becoming more acidic.

This ocean acidification reduces the amount of building material, or calcium carbonate, available to animals in the ocean. That makes it harder for organisms to form their calcium carbonate shells or can cause their shells or skeletons to dissolve, threatening a number of marine organisms.

tufted puffin on the water
A NOAA educator conducts a demonstration to explain the process and effects of ocean acidification. Credit: Laura Francis/NOAA

What can we do? By reducing the amount of fossil fuels we burn for energy -- by supporting measures like public transportation and alternative energy production -- we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the ocean.

By working together in this special outreach session and Share-a-Thon, scientists and educators will share and learn how to best communicate the science about and solutions to ocean acidification to the public.

Can't make it to Tasmania? Participate in the Sharing Ocean Acidification Resources for Communicators and Educators (SOARCE) Webinar on May 6th at 3 p.m. Pacific (6 p.m. Eastern) to get a live update on science and communication efforts from the Ocean in a High CO2 World Symposium.

Learn more about this collaboration at http://www.highco2-iv.org/the-acidification-story.