Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Dale Miller

Second Advisor

Lisa Corwin

Third Advisor

Steven Vanderheiden

Abstract

Ocean acidification is the chemical process that results in the decrease of ocean pH levels. This decrease is caused by the diffusion of atmospheric carbon dioxide into Earth’s oceans. In other words, Earth’s oceans act as a carbon sink for atmospheric carbon. Prior to the industrial revolution in 1760, the ocean regulated the amount of carbon in earth’s atmosphere in a manner that did not threaten marine ecosystems. However, due to the increased combustion of fossil fuels due to rapid industrialization, urbanization, and population growth, oceans have begun to take up excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, resulting in an alteration of oceanic chemistry. The accumulation of hydrogen ions in ocean water due to the chemical reaction between carbonate carbon dioxide, and water have increased the acidity of the ocean. This has created a corrosive environment for shell-forming organisms that rely on carbonate for their exoskeletons. Many of these organisms, especially those in the Mollusca phylum, are commercially valuable. Ocean acidification has already begun its impact on the shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest. However, if a business-as-usual scenario of carbon combustion prevails over use of alternative energy sources and mandatory terrestrial pollutant controls, the impact on shellfish aquaculture firms will only intensify and threaten the industry and its associated jobs and revenue. Local, state and federal authorities and agencies have begun to take steps to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification. Mitigation strategies are analyzed on their basis to effectively diminish the physiological and economic impact of ocean acidification on shellfish aquaculture operations. The question remains if these strategies will be able to successfully inhibit the ongoing process of ocean acidification, or simply just delay the impacts.