NOAA funds research on ocean conditions

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Dangerously low oxygen levels are killing Dungeness crabs off the Pacific coast, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is giving $4.2 million over the next four years to study changing ocean environments.

On Wednesday, the agency announced it had awarded Oregon State University $967,505, the first payment in what will be a four-year collaborative project across California, Oregon and Washington that includes the National Marine Sanctuary. from the Olympic coast.

“Ocean acidification, hypoxia, rising temperatures, and harmful algal blooms have become major environmental stressors in the Northern California Current ecosystem,” NOAA said.

“For the Dungeness Crab fishery, the most valuable fishery on the West Coast of the United States, hypoxia has resulted in mass mortality of crabs in commercial traps, and HAB events have resulted in a substantial reduction in the fishery, including season-wide closures.”

NOAA estimates that a toxic algal bloom off the west coast in 2015 cost an estimated $97.5 million in lost Dungeness crab fishing revenue and $40 million to the tourism industry.

The red crab and snow crab fishery in Alaska was closed last month due to drastic declines in crab populations, the Associated Press reported.

The goal of the program is to help prepare for the impacts of climate change by creating projections of future ocean conditions and how marine life will respond to various stressors affecting their environment.

The program will bring together a number of institutions to combine existing data, revise oceanographic models, and conduct field and laboratory studies of Dungeness crab and krill.

Oregon State will redistribute the funds among more than 18 collaborating scientists at nine institutions, according to NOAA spokeswoman Kimberly Puglise.

In addition to Oregon State and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, institutions involved include the University of Washington, Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, University of Connecticut, University of California Santa Barbara and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Northwest Center for Fisheries Science and National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

“This really is a powerful opportunity to synthesize this data to better understand spatial drivers,” said Jenny Waddell, a Port Angeles-based research ecologist at the NOAA Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Waddell said that for more than 20 years NOAA has managed a series of oceanographic anchorages off the Olympic Peninsula, covering an area from Grays Harbor County to the Canada-US maritime border north of Cape Flattery.

These moorings made it possible to measure ocean conditions at different depths, giving researchers a better understanding of how climate change is affecting various ocean environments.

Data like this will be synthesized with data from other institutions to help design experiments that will be performed in an OSU lab, Waddell said.

“It’s a really fascinating look at spatial patterns of how these marine stressors are happening in the ocean in real time,” Waddell said.

“We use the information we get from the data synthesis to inform study and experiments.”

All of this information will hopefully lead to a management strategy that will protect fisheries in the future, Waddell said.

The area covered by the study extends from northern California to the Olympic Peninsula.

In Washington, the program will also work with the Hoh Tribe, Quileute Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

More information about the project can be found on NOAA’s Coastal Science website, coastalscience.noaa.gov.

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Journalist Peter Segall can be reached at [email protected]


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