In just a couple of weeks, researchers will be collecting the first batch of data from a new system monitoring ocean acidification in Kachemak Bay.
A system of five sensors, from Bear Cove near the head of the bay to the Homer Spit and Seldovia, have been collecting data related to ocean acidification since October. Researchers hope the system will provide some valuable answers on how ocean acidification takes place in near-shore environments.
In the past, measuring ocean acidification has been primarily done in the open ocean. But in recent years, scientists have been interested in studying how the process plays out in near-shore environments.
“Well for Alaska, we just don’t have any near-shore measurements,” Amanda Kelley said, a professor and researcher with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. ”If you think about it, many, many important species to this region live in near-shore environments as a nursery or rearing ground. Then organisms like bivalves and shellfish, they don’t typically go out into the open ocean.”
Last fall, Kelley installed what may be the most advanced near-shore OA monitoring system in the state.
“Like the first real goal is we’re collecting baseline pH data so that we can make comparisons in the future,” Kelley explained.
The second goal is to understand the variability animals and organisms that live in Kachemak Bay are experiencing because if researches know that, they can make predictions about how those organisms might fair in the future.
In the next couple of weeks, Kelley will be venturing out to download the first five months of data.
Scientific entities such as the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve have been collecting OA measurements manually on a monthly basis, but Kelley’s system takes measurements every three hours in five unique locations.
The data the system collects is also more accurate than the manual measurements.
You can think about it like comparing an old tube TV to the latest hi-definition flat screen, the more pixels on the screen, the clearer the picture – more data equals better answers.
“We just haven’t had a good way to measure it before and now we do,” Kris Holderied said.
Holderied directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Kasistsna Bay Laboratory across Kachemak Bay from Homer.
Scientists like her and others will eventually benefit from this data once it is analyzed and made public, and she said that higher level of resolution will help sort through the plethora of variables that play out in near-shore environments.
“As the tide comes in and as the tide goes out, as you see storm conditions change,” Holderied listed. “One of the things that people don’t necessarily don’t think about is phytoplankton, the little plants in the water, when they grow, they change the ocean acidification conditions. That’s not something we can get a handle on because it happens very quickly.”
Kelley explains it will be a few years before she has a good baseline dataset on the bay. She hopes that the information will help her and other scientists make valuable predictions about future conditions and conduct experiments to see how local species are reacting to changing conditions.
Kelley adds that the information coming out of her system won’t just benefit local scientist.
“This can tell us a lot for other places that have similar characteristics to Kachemak Bay, and that’s why we call it a model system,” Kelley explained. “A lot of the information that we can get from studying Kachemak Bay, we can use it to infer processes in other places.”
Kelley doesn’t have an exact date when the first batch of data will be released, but after it’s gone through some quality control measures, it will make its way to the Alaska Ocean Observing System, which aggregates OA data in Alaska.