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Ocean Acidification and the West Coast of North America

Richard Rueb, Science, Clackamas Community College


The world's oceans are becoming increasingly acidic as a result of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The coastal waters of the West Coast of North America are especially vulnerable to ocean acidification because of both the seasonal upwelling events that bring acidic waters to the surface and because runoff of nutrients from land stimulates the growth of algae. Increasing ocean acidity interferes with the metabolism and reproduction of marine organisms that have calcium carbonate shells such as corals and sea urchins, threatening both ocean food chains and the shellfish industries and economies of West Coast states.

Ocean acidification is already having negative impacts on the shellfish industries of the Pacific Northwest. There have been massive die offs of scallops in British Columbia and of larvae at the Northwest's oyster hatcheries. The shellfish industry of Oregon and Washington alone is worth $272 million and employs 3,200 people, so additional ocean acidification could potentially result in both large losses to local and state economies and the layoff of hundreds or even thousands of shellfish industry workers.

In this case study, British Columbia and the states of Oregon, Washington, and California engage in a collaborative effort to examine the causes, effects, and extent of ocean acidification along their Pacific coastlines and to estimate the risks of ocean acidification for the their shellfish industries and economies. The case study also explores the potential for mitigation of ocean acidification and possible responses to any economic impacts and employment losses if ocean acidification continues. Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia will a establish a "West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel" that will bring together scientists to develop recommendations for research and monitoring ocean acidification in the Pacific Ocean. The Institute for Natural Resources at Oregon State University and the California Ocean Science Trust will integrate the recommendations of the science panel with management and decision making by government decision-makers.

Individuals with expertise/responsibilities in the following areas have helped create the case study:

Key teaching points:

How this example is used in the classroom:

I am not currently using this example in the classroom because it is still under development. I am tentatively planning to have groups of 3-5 students assume the roles of each of the key experts or stakeholders involved with the example. Each group of students will do the research necessary to become knowledgeable about their role. Groups of key experts and stakeholders will then collaborate in an attempt to develop plans for mitigation of ocean acidification and remediation of its economic impacts.

See Robert's related teaching activity Using the pH Scale and Carbonic Acid Formation to Understand the Effect of Ocean Acidification on Organisms with Calcium Carbonate Shells.


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