Reaching new depths: ocean acidification research in the Gulf of Mexico

Originally published at on 09-13-2021 by NOAA and UM Rosenstiel Communication offices


(Update on the cruise from September, 21, 2021, on CIMAS blog: GOMECC-4, Week 1, by Leticia Barbero and Andy Stefanick, GOMECC-4 chief scientists)

NOAA vessel before the research cruise for GOMMEC-4

NOAA and the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science will conduct their most comprehensive ocean acidification sampling of the Gulf of Mexico yet. 25 scientists and graduate students conducting research departed September 13th, for the 4th Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Carbon Cruise (GOMECC-4) on the NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown. During their 39 days at sea they will be measuring the ocean carbonate chemistry throughout the Gulf’s water column to assess the extent of ocean acidification due to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is, in part, absorbed by our ocean. They will be using innovative tools to study the base of the marine food web, and exploring the impact of ocean acidification on recreation and fisheries in this region, as well as a possible link to harmful algal blooms. They will also be looking back in time to understand the course of ocean acidification in this area by studying sediments of the ocean floor.

Ocean acidification is occurring because our ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels that power our homes and cars. This leads to a fundamental change in ocean chemistry and increase in acidity which can impact marine life, and ultimately human communities connected to a healthy ocean. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) can negatively impact the health of the Gulf and create “red tides” in Florida which release a toxin that causes respiratory illness in humans. These blooms can also produce toxins that cause closures to both commercial and recreational harvesting of shellfish and fish. While these events are most common in southwest Florida, they do occur throughout the Gulf.

“This cruise will allow us to see how ocean acidification has evolved over the last decade in the Gulf of Mexico, which regions are acidifying faster than others, and how those are tied to impacts on marine life and coastal resources” says Leticia Barbero, PhD, Chief Scientist and CIMAS Chemical Oceanographer at NOAA.

Coastal acidification describes how these longer term changes in our ocean interact with changes in coastal waters like water quality. GCAN plays an important role in communicating potential impacts to community members and helping them understand how they can adapt and mitigate.

Barbero is collaborating with colleagues from CIMAS, NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), the National Park Service (NPS), and many universities in the US and Mexico to answer these important questions. Researchers on board will be working around the clock to advance our understanding of ocean acidification, its effects on marine life and how those could ripple into human communities along the Gulf Coast.

Ocean acidification isn’t limited to US waters, but is a global change. What is learned on board the R/V Ronald H. Brown in the Gulf of Mexico will contribute to efforts to understand this ocean change around the world. Barbero and her colleagues are part of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON), which is working to expand our understanding of ocean acidification around the globe, how marine life and ecosystems are responding to this change and ultimately, use this data and information collected to predict changes and allow human communities to adapt and respond.

You can join the team aboard via the cruise blog. Stay tuned!

The research team includes scientists from:

Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE)

Florida A&M University (FAMU)

La Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC)

North Carolina State University Marine Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (NCSU)

Northern Gulf Institute (NGI)

Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS)

University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL)

University of South Florida (USF)

University of Southern Missisippi (USM)

Texas A & M University Corpus Christi (TAMUCC)