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KNBA News - Scientists seek ways to treat acidified ocean, keep shellfish hatcheries open

Feb 1, 2016

New technology allows monitoriing of ocean acidification as it occurs

By Johanna Eurich, Freelance Journalist – Anchorage

Alaska's Shellfish hatcheries are worried that they may have to shut down their operations like hatcheries further south did when waters got too acidic to grow healthy shellfish. Willey Evans, a researcher with the Hakai Institute in British Columbia is working with Aleutic Pride shellfish hatchery in Seward. 

Looking at the numbers, he says Alaskan hatcheries don't have that long to wait before their waters reach dangerous corrosive levels. They can monitor it now

"2040 seems to be the year when we will be at an atmospheric co2 level that will be problematic for growing these organisms in these hatcheries without doing some sort of mitigation strategy,” said Evans.

Hatcheries have a new tool to help them gauge the saturation levels in their waters. It's called a Burkelator and for the first time they can monitor the acidic levels in seawater in real time.

"That's really thanks to Burk Hale at Oregon State University who is the developer of the Burkelator and amount of programming that he’s put into that,” said Evans. “It's pretty fantastic what he s done.

Hatchery managers like Jeff Hetrick at Alutiic Pride Shellfish Hatchery wants to try to treat the ocean water to protect and nurture shellfish to get better production. Wiley Evans's team is building tanks to do just that. They will be ready to grow shellfish at different ocean acidity levels this summer. 

"The dosing experiment is really exciting. With that system we have tight control of the CO2 chemistry and we can manipulate it in and make it more harsh and less harsh and see what are these animals, what are their thresholds, where they grow best under what conditions,” said Hetrick. “Alutiic Pride Shellfish Hatchery has ten animals that they produce. And only five of them have been tested for ocean acidification impacts. So we're going to learn a lot I think just from that part.” 

Evans says they hope to learn when the various species are most sensitive to ocean acidic levels and which species may have stronger resistance. 

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Summit on Racial Equity kicks off today

The First Alaskans Institute's Summit on Racial Equity kicks off this morning in Anchorage, with keynote addresses by E.J David, the author of "Brown Skin; White Minds,"  and hip-hop analyst Jam Smooth, creator of the humorous video "How to Tell People they Sound Racist.” The 2-day Summit is being held at the Egan Convention Center.

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Changing Arctic:  Is climate change a factor in Alaska’s unseasonably high temperatures?

By Tim Ellis, KUAC - Fairbanks

Temperatures climbed above freezing again this week throughout Alaska. It’s the latest of several warm spells that’ve kept temperatures unseasonably high in this part of the Arctic this winter. And it raises the question whether climate change is a factor.

“No weather event is completely independent of climate change,” said University of Alaska-Fairbanks research professor John Walsh says climate change doesn’t “cause” every weather event in the Arctic or elsewhere around the world. But he says it intensifies those events, such as the big snowstorm that hit the East Coast last week.

“We probably would have had a snowstorm without climate change. But it probably wouldn’t have been so severe,” said Walsh.

Walsh is the chief scientist with the university’s International Arctic Research Center. And he says climate scientists have developed a metric to estimate how much global warming contributes to a weather event. He says they’re now applying that metric, called fraction of attributable risk, or FAR, to determine the role climate change played in the formation of a

large warm air mass that swept up and over the North Pole on New Year’s Eve,  raising the temperature there to above freezing.

“That’s another case where, even without climate change,” said Walsh, “there would have been a strong storm in the North Atlantic that pumped a lot of warm air up over the Arctic Ocean. But that air probably wouldn’t have been as warm in the past.”*

Rick Thoman is the resident climate-change expert at the National Weather Service’s office in Fairbanks. And he says meteorologists have been careful to attribute climate-change influence to weather phenomena, because the science is still relatively new and evolving. But he says it’s clear forecasters need new calculating tools to replace those becoming obsolete in a warming world. Especially in the far north, where the impact of climate change has been so dramatic.

“In places like the coastal North Slope, where in parts of the year, the climate has changed so dramatically in the last decade, those historically based tools simply don’t work anymore.”*

Walsh says researchers using FAR generally find that climate change boosts the intensity of weather events by 10 to 20 percent. He says they’re now using the metric to estimate how much it has intensified El Nino and the North Pacific warm surface water phenomenon known as The Blob.

Walsh expects climate scientists will conclude climate change probably has significantly contributed to the intensity of El Nino. He says it’ll probably also be shown to have contributed to torrential rains that’ve soaked the western United States and heavy snowfall to the eastern U.S. He says that’s consistent with models that show climate change generally will promote heavier precipitation in lower and mid-latitudes, and warmer-than-usual temperatures at higher latitudes.