Maryland draws on UMCES expertise on ocean acidification

September 27, 2021

Chesapeake Bay health has faced many challenges over the past decades, from reduced oyster populations to dead zones. One of the latest challenges is ocean acidification—a condition where the pH of marine water is lowered towards a more acidic condition. Ocean acidification is an increasing threat, not only to the open-ocean waters but also to coastal and inshore waters like the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal bays. Primarily caused by increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increasing nutrient pollution, this altered water chemistry can make it more difficult for calcifying aquatic organisms like oysters to create viable shells or to grow and reproduce properly

Jeremy Testa works on a research cruise to better understand ocean acidification.

In 2019, Governor Hogan committed Maryland to becoming a member of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification. Alliance members were tasked with developing an Ocean Acidification Action Plan to target reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and ocean adaptation actions under international climate frameworks. Maryland assembled a team with expertise from academia and the State government, including Dr. Jeremy Testa, a marine ecologist studying nutrient cycling in coastal systems at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES)’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

Maryland Department of the Environment Assistant Secretary Suzanne Dorsey, who assembled the planning team, said “Dr. Testa is a leader in coastal acidification who uses complex modeling, lab, and field work to assess how climate change impacts the Chesapeake Bay. Yet, he still manages to communicate why everyday Marylanders should care about Bay chemistry.”

“The causes of acidification in the Bay are exceptionally complex, including different impacts along the length of the Bay, at varying water depths and temporally. However, Jeremy’s succinct assessment provides an influential take-away message for environmental managers and leadership,” said team member Jim George, a respected leader in the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Bay restoration efforts. “Influencing action through the communication of science is one of the benefits we hoped for in having Dr. Testa on the team, and he delivered.

An example of Testa’s ability to communicate complex subjects is reflected in his assessment that our current understanding indicates that the cause of acidification in the Chesapeake Bay is split roughly 50/50 between atmospheric carbon dioxide and excessive nutrients. This attribution of cause allows the State to prioritize strategies to ameliorate or mitigate the effects of increased acidification. Testa also recognized that more specific guidance requires improvements in data collection programs.

“Dr. Testa has engaged with State agencies on identifying practical options to enhance monitoring of the Bay’s carbonate system and has briefed the Maryland Commission on Climate Change’s Science and Technical Workgroup on the science and impacts of acidification on Maryland’s waters,” said team member Mark Trice, a monitoring and data program manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who has been active in regional ocean acidification issues for years.

“For almost 100 years, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has provided scientific understanding and actionable advice that has helped the State conserve and sustain the aquatic resources of the Chesapeake,” said Thomas Miller, director of UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. “Jeremy’s contributions to developing the Maryland Ocean Acidification Plan is a great example of the strong partnership that exists to this day.”