Human activities are directly affecting coastal marine environments. One emerging environmental stress impacting both U.S. coastal systems and oceans worldwide is ocean acidification. Known as the “other CO2 problem”, ocean acidification occurs as excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans, making seawater more acidic and leading to a suite of changes in ocean chemistry. The resulting ocean environment will fundamentally challenge many marine organisms and ecosystems over the next several decades. Due to a combination of unique ocean circulation patterns and proximity to highly urban areas, southern California’s coastal systems may be acutely vulnerable to this issue.
Scientists affiliated with the USC Wrigley Institute are conducting research and raising awareness about this largely unknown problem, which poses challenges to life in the seas and the health of the planet. The offshore location of the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island is ideal for ocean acidification studies, as it combines easy access to open ocean water with state-of-the-art laboratory facilities. The marine facility is rapidly acquiring specialized equipment and infrastructure that, paired with existing resources, will position USC’s Wrigley Institute to become a leader in the emerging field of ocean acidification research.
Many Wrigley-affiliated researchers are already addressing innovative research questions that span the breadth of ocean acidification science, from genetics to entire ecosystems. For example, USC researchers are showing that marine animals may rev up their metabolism to work more than twice as hard as normal to cope with such changes, and that lower food webs may shift as ‘winners and losers’ emerge under acidified conditions. Our scientists are also studying the issue through time: from the present to the geologic past, and even looking into the future by developing models with predictive capabilities to understand emerging dynamics in our changing oceans.