U.S. Agency Programs Involved in ocean acidification research

Posted on EPOCA: 01 Jul 2011

 Department of the Interior

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) marine and coastal responsibilities include 84 marine and coastal National Parks and 180 National Wildlife Refuges, numerous threatened and endangered species that depend on the ocean for survival, and some marine mammals including the polar bear, walrus, manatee, and sea otter. DOI also shares a concern for preserving these ecosystems and managing natural resources within these and other areas. The Department also manages offshore energy production and must take into consideration the environmental effects of these activities in relation to other environmental stresses. Ocean acidification will alter the environment and may have serious implications for the important areas managed by DOI, particularly since these areas include diverse ecosystems, such as coral and estuarine communities, and sediment resources. An understanding of the implications of ocean acidification is necessary to better manage these areas and to provide for adaptation to the altered environment. DOI, therefore, needs to be actively participating in identifying research needs as well as ensuring that appropriate scientific information is gathered to inform decision making.


– National Park Service, Department of the Interior

The National Park Service (NPS) is entrusted with managing 84 ocean and Great Lakes parks across 26 states and territories. These parks conserve over 12,500 miles of coast and 2.4 million acres of ocean and Great Lakes waters.NPS has adopted strategies to enhance the agency’s organizational and scientific capacity to understand and conserve ocean and coastal park resources with state and federal agencies and local organizations. The NPS conducts assessments of submerged maritime historic and cultural resources, and assessments of coastal watersheds and water resource conditions. The NPS also conducts long-term monitoring of marine ecosystems within its jurisdiction and maintains inventories of natural resources. The NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program provides a set of 12 baseline natural resource inventories on National Parks, which include presence, class, distribution, and status of biological resources such as plants and animals, and abiotic resources such as air, water, soils, and climate in certain coastal and estuarine locations.

– United States Geological Survey, Department of the Interior
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) mission, as a bureau of DOI, is to provide sound scientific knowledge and information needed to understand environmental quality and resource preservation on regional, national, and, when appropriate, global scales. A number of programs within the USGS address such needs, including the Coastal and Marine Geology Program, Earth Surface Dynamics and Climate Change Research and Development, and various USGS Biology and Water Programs. Within the marine realm, the Coastal and Marine Geology Program and Climate Change coordinators recognize a need for research linking climate change and ocean acidification to marine ecosystem responses because of the significant resource management implications. Within the terrestrial aquatic realm, changes in rivers and lake chemistries have been characterized and monitored by USGS for decades. USGS research will continue to provide fundamental information on carbon and CO2 cycling in these important areas and these data will aid the development of models that describe ecosystem responses to chemical changes in the ocean and aquatic environments.

– United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Interior
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has responsibility for many natural resources that could be affected by ocean acidification. The USFWS Migratory Bird Program conserves migratory seabird populations and their habitats through careful monitoring, effective management, and by supporting national and international partnerships. The Service also has legal responsibility for many marine species listed under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Service is concerned with how ocean acidification will affect the marine food webs that support these trust species. The Service also manages the National Wildlife Refuge System, which includes 106 marine protected areas, and shares management responsibility for four large Marine National Monuments in the Pacific Ocean. The Refuge System protects the most remote pristine coral reef ecosystems under U.S. jurisdiction. These coral reef refuges serve as natural laboratories for studying the effects of climate change and ocean acidification in the absence of other major human disturbances.

-Other DOI agencies with missions related to ocean acidification include the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Department of State
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) recognizes the importance of ocean acidification and its role in addressing this issue on an international scale with the cooperation of international partners. Although it does not currently manage any dedicated programs or funds for ocean acidification, DOS, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is already progressing the understanding and acknowledgement of this issue. For example, DOS has raised ocean acidification in relevant international fora to advance public diplomacy, such as the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme, and has provided funding to various international ocean acidification activities, including the international workshop “Economics of Ocean Acidification.” Involvement by DOS in this issue will likely increase and become more proactive, especially in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks to understand and mitigate the causes and effects of ocean acidification. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA has developed regulations for the transportation and industrial sectors to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to ocean acidification, and EPA implements the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program which will provide data to inform future Agency policies related to climate change. EPA is also responsible for protecting aquatic resources under the Clean Water Act, which charges EPA, States, Tribes and Territories to maintain and restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters. The Act sets out several national goals, including the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water through enforcement of physical, chemical, and biological water quality standards. EPA supports actions to improve standards and reporting for marine and estuarine pH and is developing biological water quality standards for coral reefs and other aquatic resources, which can be used to protect against the consequences of ocean acidification.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The Earth Science Research Program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) supports research activities that address the Earth system to characterize its properties, to understand the naturally occurring and human-induced processes that drive them, and to improve our capability for predicting its future evolution. The focus of the Earth Science Research Program is the use of space-based measurements to provide information not available by other means.

The goals of the NASA Earth Science Research Program for Carbon Cycle Science are to improve understanding of the global carbon cycle and to quantify changes in atmospheric CO2 and methane concentrations as well as terrestrial and aquatic carbon storage in response to fossil fuel combustion, land use and land cover change, and other human activities and natural events. NASA carbon cycle research encompasses multiple temporal and spatial scales and addresses atmospheric, terrestrial, and aquatic carbon reservoirs, their coupling within the global carbon cycle, and interactions with climate and other aspects of the Earth system.

Past projects have supported observation, research, modeling, satellite instrument requirement development, and education and public outreach investments in ocean acidification. In the most recent Carbon Cycle Science program element, NASA encouraged proposals for studies that address our understanding of ocean acidification and the impacts and feedbacks on ocean chemistry, ecology, and biology. These included but were not limited to: 1) the impact of increasing or high CO2 concentrations on ocean chemistry, 2) the evolving ability of the oceans to take up CO2, and 3) the characterization and delineation of possible interactions between the effects of increasing pCO2 and effects due to climate-induced changes in variables such as temperature and nutrients. To the extent possible, predictions of changes and quantification and characterization of impacts and feedbacks of ocean acidification on the broad ocean system, especially carbon dynamics, with the associated errors, were encouraged. Development of educational materials and outreach strategies related to ocean acidification and associated policies were also encouraged.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce
The mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is to understand and predict changes in Earth’s environment and to conserve and manage coastal and marine resources to meet our Nation’s economic, social, and environmental needs. In keeping with this mission and the requirements of the FOARAM Act, NOAA is (1) developing and deploying enhanced ocean and coastal observing systems, (2) conducting research and developing outreach plans to ensure protection of NOAA managed resources including fishery species and place based protected areas, and (3) developing models to forecast future ocean chemistry and impacts on fishery species and is educating the general public. As required by the FOARAM Act, NOAA has established a NOAA Ocean Acidification Program Office. The office is responsible for coordination of ocean acidification activities across NOAA and will serve a coordinating role for NOAA Ocean Acidification activities as related to other Federal agencies, international inquiries, the media, Congress, non-governmental organizations, and the general public.

Scientists from NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research work collaboratively with academic partners to conduct ocean carbon cycle research from ships, moorings, and floats in all major ocean basins. Current programs focus on open ocean physical and biogeochemical observations in support of long-term monitoring and prediction of the ocean environment on time scales from hours to decades. Studies are conducted to improve understanding of the complex physical and biogeochemical processes operating in the world oceans, to define the forcing functions and processes driving ocean circulation and the ocean carbon system, and to improve environmental forecasting capabilities and other supporting services for marine commerce and fisheries. Included are studies to assess the ocean’s role in controlling atmospheric CO2 levels with focus on observations of the exchange of CO2 across the air-sea interface and its eventual penetration into the water masses of the deep ocean. Scientists within these laboratories are collaborating closely with NOAA Fisheries surveys and experimental research to assist in the analysis of carbon data samples and to expand the sampling effort related to carbon chemistry of the ocean, as it relates to managed and protected species. NOAA also plans to fund new sensor development related to detection and monitoring of ocean acidification through the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.

NOAA Fisheries Service studies are focused on assessing the physiological effects on individual living marine resources and the resulting ecosystem impacts. Through laboratory, field and modeling studies, potential impacts are being examined on commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish species and other species that are important components of marine ecosystems, including protected species. As noted above, collaborations with other parts of NOAA to monitor ocean acidification are ongoing.

Within the National Ocean Service, NOAA plans to administer a research program focused on the study of the impacts of ocean acidification on ocean and coastal ecosystems, including the development of ecosystem models to forecast future ecological and socioeconomic impacts. In addition, a research effort to develop an ecosystem monitoring network for coral reefs is continuing. Regionally specific ocean acidification research and outreach plans to manage and protect marine sanctuaries are being developed as are plans to add new ocean acidification-related parameters to long-term estuarine water quality monitoring at National Estuarine Research Reserves. Ocean acidification related data are also being collected and served by the Integrated Ocean Observing System via its regional associations.

NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service recently developed an experimental product which translates satellite information and related modeled products into analysis and prediction of the impact of ocean acidification on coral reef regions.
National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) supports a broad spectrum of ocean acidification related research and educational activities that spans multiple disciplines, as well as capacity building within the scientific community.

Within the NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences/Division of Ocean Sciences, Chemical and Biological Oceanography program managers have utilized funds from their core programs in the past few years to initiate ocean acidification research and technology development. The Biological Oceanography Program supports investigations of the impacts of ocean acidification on the biology, ecology and biogeochemistry of planktonic and benthic systems of both the open ocean and coastal region, while the Chemical Oceanography Program has a strong emphasis on the impacts of ocean acidification on organic and inorganic geochemical materials in the oceans. Similar interests and investments exist in the NSF Office of Polar Programs.

Other NSF programs have also made investments in ocean acidification research. The Marine Geology and Geophysics program considers the genesis, chemistry, and mineralogical evolution of marine sediments, as well as interactions of continental and marine geologic processes and paleoceanography; and the Geobiology and Low-Temperature Geochemistry program promotes studies of the interactions between biological and geological systems at all space and time scales. NSF’s Program on Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems contributes to advance the ability to understand and predict the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification. NSF’s Long-Term Ecological Research Program (LTER) supports the type of long-term interdisciplinary research necessary to understand the consequences of ocean acidification at the ecosystem scale, whereas the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), which is scheduled to begin operations in 2014, will be a networked infrastructure of science-driven sensor systems to measure physical, chemical, geological and biological characteristics of the ocean and seafloor. Finally, The COSEE program, funded primarily by the NSF with support from the NOAA, enhances ocean literacy and public awareness through translation of recent research findings related to the oceans and Great Lakes for use by formal and informal educators who teach students and the public.

The Directorate for Geosciences, the Directorate for Biological Sciences, and the Office of Polar Programs at the NSF together manage a limited-duration, focused program on ocean acidification to support research on three main research areas: (1) the chemistry and physical chemistry of ocean acidification and, in particular, its interplay with fundamental biochemical and physiological processes of organisms; (2) how ocean acidification interacts with processes at the organismal level, and how such interactions impact the structure and function of ecosystems; and (3) how the earth system history informs our understanding of the effects of ocean acidification on the present day and future ocean. The program has already awarded 22 grants (FY10-11) with a total investment of approximately $24 million for this focused program.
United States Navy
The U.S. Navy concerns surrounding ocean acidification stem from its relationship to climate change and national security. The Navy’s Task Force Climate Change, which is directed by the Oceanographer of the Navy, was created to address the implications of climate change for national security and naval operations to ensure that the Navy is ready and capable to meet all mission requirements in the 21st century. Ocean acidification has the potential to increase instability in regions of the world where the effects of increasing pH on marine life will threaten the food supply of over one billion people. The Navy is currently monitoring ongoing research to assess the implications of ocean acidification on future missions.

Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification, NOAA, 1 July 2011. Web site.