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THE STORY: Colder Waters, More CO2

Alan Parks has spent his life fishing Alaska's waters, from the tip of the Aleutians to the southern coast. When he first learned about fossil fuel emissions altering the basic chemistry of those waters and making them more acidic, he figured the problem would get enough attention to trigger some kind of action.

photo of Alan Parks

Photo: AAMC/Camrin Dengel Alan Parks

Now the 53-year-old commercial fisherman is even more concerned. Given the substantial changes already underway, Parks says that drawing immediate attention to understanding and preparing for ocean acidification and its impacts is urgently needed.

"We just really need to work on adaptation," stresses Parks, a Homer resident whose living comes from fishing for salmon, crab, halibut, herring and more.

In Alaska, paychecks from the seafood industry buy homes, keep restaurants and stores in business, replace appliances and send kids to college. Commercial fishing is the third-largest driver of economic activity in the state.


Cold, high-latitude waters are naturally rich in carbon dioxide, but rising emissions driven by human activity have pushed some of Alaska's waters past the chemical tipping point known as "undersaturation."

In those corrosive conditions, the shells, skeletons and protective structures that many creatures need to survive, begin to dissolve. Scientists have recently documented broad areas of "undersaturation" in the Gulf of Alaska, along with the Bering and Chukchi seas. There is no doubt that Alaska is on the "front lines" of ocean acidification.


This phenomenon occurs when natural wind patterns churn up deep, acidic water to the surface and onto coastlines.

Freshwater Input

Alaska rivers, which flow into the ocean, are more acidic than seawater, suppressing carbonate concentrations.

Algae Blooms

Uneaten algae from natural blooms sink, decompose, and raise acidity of bottom waters.

Ice Melt

Melting sea ice dilutes carbonate concentrations.


Colder waters hold more carbon dioxide, leading to higher acidity.

Acidification Hotspot

Credit: Illustrations of sea life © B. Guild Gillespie / www.chartingnature.com

illustration of king crab

Credit: Illustration © B. Guild Gillespie /


The Alaska seafood industry at a glance:

  • 50% of the seafood caught in U.S. waters comes from Alaska
  • $3.3 billion is the value of the seafood after processing
  • 70,000 jobs are generated by the seafood industry, more than oil, gas and mining combined
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