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Federal Grant Covers Research of Acidification Impacts in Texas Coastal Waters

November 11, 2015

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A team of researchers led by Dr. Paul Montagna at the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has received funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to investigate how drought and land use change affect coastal acidification. They will then use that information to predict how future acidification and changes in rain patterns will impact the estuarine ecosystems of Texas.

Oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of carbon dioxide (CO2) seeping into open ocean surface waters. Add to that the stressors of low oxygen levels and increased nutrient runoff from land into coastal waters. Local estuaries in Texas have been experiencing short term coastal acidification events. These nearshore waters provide important habitat and act as nurseries for some of the Gulf’s valued fish and shellfish species.

“We discovered declines in pH and dissolved oxygen in our long-term research on the effects of altered freshwater inflow, and this was quite shocking because low pH can affect shellfish, especially oysters and crabs, and animals can suffocate when oxygen is low,” Montagna said. “This new research grant will enable us to discover why these declines are occurring.”

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will receive $482,381 to understand how changes in water flow may cause low-oxygen events, called hypoxia, and short-term ocean acidification in Texas estuaries.

This research and the models developed from these projects will allow scientists to better understand acidification of our coastal waters driven by increasing atmospheric CO2 and amplified by local processes. With information about the drivers behind and projected impacts to different coastal ecosystems, coastal and land-based resource managers will have tools to better manage our valued coastal resources.

“It is crucial that we understand how the ocean chemistry is changing in different places, and how it will affect commercial fisheries and critical marine habitats in valued coastal communities,” said Libby Jewett, Ph.D., Director of NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program.

These near shore waters are not only home to valued marine organisms, but are also susceptible to the effects of land based activities. Increased nutrient runoff causes blooms of tiny marine plants or algae. When the algal blooms decompose, deeper coastal waters can become depleted of oxygen. This process also increases carbon dioxide concentrations in the water, which leads to further acidification in localized areas. Additionally, rains not only bring freshwater into the near shore waters, but other sources of carbon. All of these factors: nutrient pollution, low oxygen, and increased freshwater contribute to coastal acidification. 

Other universities that received part of the $1.3 million from NOAA to predict coastal acidification impacts to commercial species and vulnerable habitats are the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences.

The Texas research team includes Dr. Paul Montagna, Endowed Chair at HRI as the principal investigator, and the following co-principal investigators:

  • Dr. Xinping Hu, Assistant Professor, TAMU-CC
  • Dr. Michael Wetz, Associate Professor, TAMU-CC
  • Dr. Robert Byrne, Professor, University of South Florida
  • Dr. Zhanfei Liu, Assistant Professor, University of Texas Marine Science Institute
  • Dr. Hae-Cheol Kim, Research Scientist, NOAA

Read more about the research online:   http://www2.coastalscience.noaa.gov/publications/detail.aspx?resource=ajN0KYrbfZHS3sQfjUZioIYhGeJKwxgQsCPQc6ewHRU=