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NOAA Partnership Focuses on Ocean Acidification Research Efforts in the Gulf of Mexico

Rising temperatures bring the added risk of ocean acidification. In an effort to train Gulf of Mexico researchers to rapidly respond to changing ocean acidities, the Louisiana and Texas Sea Grant programs are partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Acidification Program to provide graduate student fellowships that build the research capacity in the region.

This hands-on opportunity helps graduate students effectively translate their research to coastal audiences. Students will identify key research priorities in the Gulf of Mexico region, contribute to an increased knowledge of ocean acidification and transfer that knowledge to relevant stakeholders through outreach and extension. Three students from Louisiana will be awarded this fellowship. Their projects are described below:

Photo: Sean GordonSean Gordon
Louisiana State University
Advisor: Kanchan Maiti

Oceans take up carbon dioxide (CO2) from many sources: the atmosphere, the breakdown of organic matter during respiration and inputs from rivers. This affects not just the pH, but other minerals important for shell building like carbonate and aragonite. The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion would be the first such project to take place in the state and it will likely have a significant effect on current and future oyster populations. Gordon and Maiti will examine how past, current and future riverine inputs have impacted aragonite, carbonate and pH levels in Barataria Bay. This research will provide a better understanding of how eutrophication impacts ocean acidification. It will also provide a tool to demonstrate how future pH levels will change under different salinity, temperature and water quality scenarios. This information will then be shared with oyster industry stakeholders in the Gulf of Mexico to help them make informed decisions about the future of their fishery.

Photo: Amanda KirklandAmanda Kirkland
University of New Orleans
Advisor: Traci Erin Cox

Nutrient laden freshwater causes stratification in the water column and can result in organisms near the bottom being exposed to lower pH. These benthic organisms—clams, oysters, crabs, snails—are vulnerable to changes in chemistry and are an important part of the food web. Their decline can ripple through to commercial and recreational fisheries. Kirkland and Cox will conduct laboratory tests to determine how benthic species respond to declining pH and increased temperatures. Additionally, they will test how these responses will impact fish feeding. To connect this information with the public, the research team are developing a citizen science project called iArtReefs to engage fishers, divers and boaters in compiling field observations on how Louisiana reefs vary. A series of 3-D videos focusing on the Louisiana artificial reefs will also be created and shared through educational initiatives.

Photo: Le ZhangLe Zhang
Louisiana State University
Advisor: Zuo George Xue

Eutrophication is a large, often overlooked source of CO2 in coastal habitats. This, coupled with rising atmospheric CO2 levels, means that Louisiana coastal waters are vulnerable to changing pH from multiple sources. In addition to global drivers of ocean acidification, local factors (like river diversions) can amplify impacts of acidification. Le and Xue will see how river diversion scenarios and climate change projections impact carbon cycling and water quality in coastal wetlands. This information will be used to create pH maps for coastal Louisiana representing not only the current condition, but also different future scenarios. To make this information available to youth audiences, Zhang will use virtual reality to create an online tour of the Louisiana coastal habitats, including an introduction to ongoing land loss challenges and plans to address them.

The fellowship provides a total award of $46,000 each year. Fellowships will begin Sept. 1, 2020.