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NCCOS Project

Supporting Ecosystem Prediction and Environmental Management of Nutrients and Acidification in the California Current System

This project began in 2015 and will end in 2018

We are supporting research that will identify areas of the California Current that are susceptible to ocean acidification and low oxygen and how that susceptibility will change in future ocean conditions. Research findings will inform regional water quality and resource management.

Why We Care
The California Current System is one of the most biologically productive regions of the world ocean. Seasonal upwelling of deep, nutrient-rich water maintains high rates of biological productivity, but also brings low-oxygen and relatively acidic waters onto the shelf and up to the surface. These conditions of ocean hypoxia and acidification (OHA) can restrict the habitat of key species and affect the ecosystem through food web interactions. A suite of factors combine to influence OHA, including large-scale climate change and human inputs of nutrients from coastal sources. The relative importance of these drivers has not been evaluated, yet is critical to any strategy to manage coastal water quality and marine resources.

What We Are Doing
We are supporting a research team at the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Washington, the Southern California Coastal Water Resources Project, and the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory who will:

  1. Develop a mathematical model of ocean acidification and hypoxia in the California Current System (Baja, California to British Columbia) with higher resolution in the Southern California Bight, the California central coast and the Oregon coast,
  2. Use the model to understand the relative contributions of natural climate variability and human inputs on the status and trends of hypoxia and acidification in the California Current System, and
  3. Transmit these findings to coastal zone managers, and help them explore the implications for marine resource management and pollution control.

Benefits of Our Work
From model results, we can determine what marine habitats are most susceptible to OHA and how susceptibility will change over time. We can also evaluate how land-based sources of nutrients exacerbate the problem. The project goals align with those of the West Coast Governor’s Alliance and the California Ocean Protection Council, each of which participate in the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel.

maps of surface aragonite saturation and surface pH on U.S.. west coast

Preliminary maps of a) surface aragonite saturation; and b) surface pH measured along the west coast of North America from Baja California to Heceta Bank. Aragonite saturation values less than 1 (red colors) are corrosive to marine organisms such as oysters, clams, scallops, pteropods, crabs, and mussels, which may be experiencing significant stress due to the combined effects of warming, low oxygen and acidification. Credit: NOAA PMEL.


maps of modeled oceanic hypoxia acidification in California Current

Maps from the simulation model along the Central and Southern California coast for July 8, 2006. Upper left: Sea Surface Temperature. Upper right: Chlorophyll A concentration (phytoplankton abundance). Lower left: the depth of the Aragonite saturation threshold (Ω = 1), below which calcium carbonate shells are vulnerable to dissolution by excess acidity. Lower right: dissolved oxygen concentration at a depth of 100 m. Low oxygen (blue colors in lower right) and a shallow depth for aragonite saturation (blue colors in lower left) indicate vulnerability of near-surface organisms to hypoxia and acidification. Credit: Jim McWilliams, UCLA.

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