Measuring Ocean Acidification in San Francisco Bay

A five-foot tall, bright yellow buoy anchored near the Tiburon shoreline and its companion mooring represent the first long-term monitoring of ocean acidity and carbon dioxide in the San Francisco Bay.

The Bay Ocean Buoy (BOB) and a mooring for Marine Acidification Research Inquiry (MARI) bring together researchers at UC Davis, San Francisco State and other partnering organizations.

“Eventually we will have a finger to place on the pulse of major chemical changes that we expect are happening in San Francisco Bay in response to global environmental changes in the ocean and watershed,” said John Largier, a UC Davis professor of oceanography in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy and Bodega Marine Laboratory, and associate director of the Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute.

Researchers from SF State and UC Davis are using a buoy and its companion mooring to measure chemical changes in San Francisco Bay. Photo: Lisa Vortman

BOB and MARI Go to Sea

By monitoring the carbon chemistry of the San Francisco Bay, we will learn how global climate change and changing ocean chemistry are interacting with local habitat restoration and conservation efforts
– Karina Nielson

To track these changes, the newly deployed BOB and MARI moorings carry sensors for measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and water, dissolved oxygen, pH, microscopic algae, water clarity, temperature and salinity. The sensors will make measurements at the surface and deep in the Bay where ocean waters flow in.

The moorings are intended to be long-term additions to the shoreline. Along with providing an immediate snapshot of water conditions, the data they collect will let scientists assess how changing ocean waters are affecting the long-term health of the Bay. They’ll also assist in tracking the success of efforts to manage local water quality and to conserve and restore natural habitats.

The monitoring buoy enters the water off the Tiburon shoreline in late February. Photo: Lisa Vortman

Chemistry and Conservation

“By monitoring the carbon chemistry of the San Francisco Bay, we will learn how global climate change and changing ocean chemistry are interacting with local habitat restoration and conservation efforts,” said Karina Nielsen, SF State biology professor and director of the EOS Center. “It will enable us to recognize the most promising management solutions and make better investments to promote the environmental health of the Bay, benefiting both people and wildlife.”

During the spring and summer months, deep ocean water rich in carbon dioxide periodically wells up along the California coast when surface waters are pushed offshore by strong winds. These upwelling events also push nutrients to the surface to help support kelp forests and productive fisheries. However, this deep water tends to be more acidic and has the potential to affect a variety of marine and estuarine life, particularly animals like oysters and mussels that build their shells from calcium carbonate.

The project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the San Francisco Estuary Partnership and by the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS), a regional association of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System. The Carbon Group at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory also contributed time and expertise. The initiative adds new capabilities to the network of shore stations supported by CeNCOOS.

This article is revised from an original press release by SF State University published Feb 23, 2018.

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