Townsend leading research as part of NOAA Ocean Acidification Program

Research led by University of Maine Professor of Oceanography David Townsend is part of NOAA’s newly announced Ocean Acidification Program.

Townsend is working in collaboration with UMaine School of Marine Sciences researchers Larry Mayer, Aaron Strong and Damian Brady; Joe Salisbury of the University of New Hampshire; and colleagues from Friends of Casco Bay, Northeast Regional Association for Coastal and Ocean Observing Systems and other organizations. The research team will compile and analyze decades of water quality data to understand long-term trends and identify the causes of the Gulf of Maine’s very low alkalinity — low buffering capacity — that makes it more vulnerable to acidification.

“Understanding the drivers of acidification in this area is a crucial first step toward understanding the region’s vulnerability, and helping local fishermen and shellfish hatcheries develop adaptation strategies,” says Townsend, who will work with his collaborators to build a database of ocean chemistry and related information dating back to the 1980s.

The Gulf of Maine has the lowest alkalinity of any Atlantic coastal region between Mexico and Canada. This results from natural processes that are not yet fully understood, Townsend says.

“What it means,” he says, “is that we are on the edge, in a sense, such that any increase in acidity from, for example, freshwater additions (fresh water is naturally acidic), or natural respiratory processes, will have an exacerbated effect (more easily lower the pH).”

New England’s coastal zone supports valuable wild harvest shellfisheries and aquaculture production. The area is not only among those most vulnerable to ocean acidification, but is vital to New England’s economy. The goal is to help New England’s vulnerable coastal communities and industries create more targeted and efficient approaches to adapt to this sea change.

More information about the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program coast to coast is online. More information about acidification research led by Townsend and others in the Northeast also is online.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745