Brady Olson, a scientist at Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center, holds a flask of seawater and stares intently at the tiny creatures called copepods swimming inside it. They dart about like frenzied boatmen, through water altered to reflect what climate scientists call “the worst case scenario:” that in 100 years, the ocean could become so acidic that seawater literally scours the calcium skins from some of the tiny creatures at the foundation of the oceanic food web.
This scenario – projected as the coming reality by the more than 2,000 scientists worldwide serving on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – drives researchers like Olson and his peer at Shannon Point, Brooke Love. It’s why they spend so many hours on the water collecting specimens and analyzing data from their experiments in the lab. At the heart of their passion lies the central question: What does this mean for our planet?
Brady Olson has so many questions, but every answer he gets from his research into ocean acidification seems to spawn five new lines of inquiry.
“The scope of what we’re researching – the implications of what this could mean for the planet – can feel pretty daunting, pretty important,” said Olson, a marine scientist at Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes, where many scientists and students collaborate on ocean research. “We understand what is at stake.”
Olson and his fellow ocean acidification researcher at Shannon Point, Brooke Love, are in the right place to research this topic, as a number of natural environmental factors make the Pacific Northwest a global hotspot for ocean acidification. The Northern Pacific’s cold water retains its carbon dioxide levels longer than warm water. And undersea currents that have been moving along the bottom of the Pacific, accruing carbon dioxide (CO2) for years, upwell in the Pacific Northwest, delivering high carbon dioxide counts.