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Climate Change

What is ocean acidification and how does it impact Washington?

Graphic explaining upwelling

Ocean acidification is the scientific term used to describe how seawater chemistry is changing due to increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the ocean from human activities.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide has been increasing in the atmosphere because of human activities. Our oceans have absorbed some of this carbon pollution, causing chemical reactions that reduce seawater pH, making it more acidic. These reactions also deplete concentrations of calcium carbonate minerals, which are the vital building blocks for marine animals to create shells and skeletons.

Ocean acidification is a global problem, but it is also a local problem, due to the large influence the ocean has on Puget Sound and our coastal bays. Washington's marine waters are particularly vulnerable. Unlike many areas, our coastal winds bring deeper waters up to the surface in a process called upwelling. This water is already enriched in carbon dioxide and naturally more acidic due to organic matter decomposing in the ocean. As a result, the upwelled waters can compound the effect of ocean acidification and further impact organisms.

Local species are at risk from ocean acidification

Many significant species in our region depend on calcium carbonate to make the shells they need to survive. Ocean acidification may deplete calcium carbonate, making it harder for them to produce and maintain their shells.

In Puget Sound, many important marine creatures fall into this category, including oysters, clams, barnacles, geoduck and plankton. But the impacts don’t stop at these creatures. Some of these prey species are important food for salmon, seabirds, whales and other marine wildlife.

Carbon pollution emitted in Washington may worsen conditions further, so we’re working to identify and address local sources of pollution.

Washington's leadership and actions

Determining the causes and impacts of ocean acidification and identifying possible solutions are high priorities for Ecology and Washington State. Ecology supports continued research and monitoring to provide the critical information needed for making decisions about ocean acidification. We are investing in science and partnering with scientists, policymakers and industry experts to prepare Washington for a changing climate.

What you can do

Future Washingtonians deserve clean water, a healthy ecosystem and a vibrant seafood industry. You can help our battle against ocean acidification by lowering your personal carbon footprint. Spreading awareness of this problem and encouraging your friends and family to reduce their carbon emissions will also help. It's a big problem that took generations to develop, and will take decades to solve, but every challenging journey begins with one step.