UW oceanography professor James Murray is currently leading a team of several UW students and researchers from Western Washington University (WWU) in conducting novel experiments at the Friday Harbor Lab in the San Juan Islands. The researchers are observing how phytoplankton react to ocean acidification, the ongoing decrease of the ocean’s pH level due to an increase of CO2 in the ocean. They discovered that currently, the ocean already contains high levels of CO2 and continues to absorb more, which makes an increasingly acidic ocean environment. In many regions of the world, ocean acidification has had disastrous effects on ecosystems, such as the death of coral reefs. However, researchers said effects in the Puget Sound marine ecosystem are still unclear, as the team needed further research.
“Phytoplankton is one of the first responders to increases in CO2 because they use an element of CO2 to fix carbon into biomass via photosynthesis,” said Robin Kodner, research scientist at Friday Harbor Labs and an assistant professor of biology at WWU, in an interview with Crosscut.com. “That sets off a whole cascade in the microbial food web.”
The lab remains one of the only places in the United States to use experimental techniques such as mesocosms, experimental water enclosures designed with conditions that closely mirror those in nature. The mesocosms allow researchers to realistically manipulate environmental factors and observe the effect on organisms.