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Concern about ocean acidity prompting new attention

  • UC Davis Ph.D candidate Dan Swezey, right, and chemistry tech Aaron Ninokawa measure water temperature, PH levels, oxygen levels and salinity in an intertidal area near the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 in Bodega Bay. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

BODEGA BAY — It's been called the “evil twin” of climate change, an environmental peril so daunting and widespread that it could undo much of the world's food web, undermine global nutrition and devastate coastal economies.

Ocean acidification, however, is often largely overlooked outside the circles of scientists, yet North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman is seeking to somehow change that and spur action on the issue before it's too late.

Acidification of the world's oceans, said Huffman, D-San Rafael, “is the biggest thing that nobody is talking about.”

Shellfish grown off the nation's West Coast already display the ill effects of rapid changes in the ocean's chemistry, an early sign that the health of the marine ecosystem could hang in the balance, Huffman said.

“You can't really overstate the impact of this,” Huffman said at a news conference this week at Bodega Marine Laboratory that was attended by representatives from science, aquaculture and government.

“We're very, very quickly approaching the tipping point, I believe,” Huffman said.

Huffman's district runs from the Golden Gate to the Oregon border, taking in about a third of the coast of California, where seafood is a $24-billion industry, supporting 145,000 jobs.

The 2nd Congressional District is on the front lines of the issue because the shift toward ocean acidity is expected to be especially pronounced along the North Coast, said John Largier, an environmental science and policy professor at Bodega Marine Lab.

Absorption of excess carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere at historically high rates is lowering the pH of oceans around the planet, scientists say.

Its impact on the North Coast is amplified by a natural upwelling that serves as a kind of conveyor belt, bringing deep water made naturally acidic and rich in carbon dioxide by decaying organic matter toward the surface, where it absorbs still more carbon dioxide.

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