As the largest vessel in the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet cruises on her route between Bellingham, Washington, and Skagway, Alaska – scientists aboard the M/V Columbia are tracking changes in ocean water that may well impact the fishing future of the Pacific Northwest.
“The project wasn’t by any means a new idea,” says Wiley Evans of British Columbia’s Hakai Institute, , “except that it’s just the first time a carbon dioxide system has been installed on a ferry.”
The project involves a surface seawater monitoring system, installed aboard the M/V Columbia to study ocean acidification, which is caused by increased carbon dioxide in the water.
Water is continuously flowing through the onboard system, which Evans helped to install, entering the ship through a bow thruster port, about six feet below the sea surface. It is measured every three minutes for seawater temperature, levels of salt, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Data being gathered aboard the M/V Columbia since late 2017 is part of an international effort that began in 2014 to understand the impact of ocean acidification along the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska.[xyz-ihs snippet=”Adsense-responsive”]Oceans are absorbing about 25 percent of the increased carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by people. According to the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network that roughly represents seven million tons of CO2 every day. As seawater becomes more acidic it could impact all commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries, as well as wildlife management in Canada, Alaska and the continental United States. Effects of ocean acidification are already being seen in shellfish farms in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.
The goal is to detail baseline conditions between Bellingham and Skagway, a distance of about 1,000 miles, Evans said. “Within this domain, there has not been very good data coverage, particularly Southeast Alaska and the central coast of British Columbia, there is a need to create baseline conditions and seasonality of the area, and to identify the best places for aquaculture to develop and hot spots for corrosive conditions,” he said.
The current plan calls for the project to extend for five years, which Evans said is long enough to understand how data might differ from one year to the next, but more would be better. “My hope is that this platform and the work we are doing in Alaska goes on at least 10 plus years,” he said.
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