Ocean Acidification Hotspots

February 03, 2016

Ocean acidification, in which atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater and creates an acid, poses a serious threat to the web of life underwater. But ocean acidification can seriously harm people as well by changing the ways we eat, earn a living, and support our communities. It has already cost the $110 million oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest significant amounts of money and jeopardized thousands of jobs. Yet relatively little attention has been paid to the human dimension of ocean acidification and fundamental questions about how ocean acidification will affect people remain unanswered. Who is going to be hardest hit by ocean acidification? In what ways will ocean acidification threaten their way of life? What actions can vulnerable communities take to protect themselves?

Betsy Peabody, creator of the Port Madison Community Shellfish Farm

These maps display the results of a study we conducted to identify which coastal communities in the United States are most vulnerable to ocean acidification. The analysis focuses specifically on the potential economic and social impacts to communities that derive benefits from shelled mollusk harvests, which are particularly threatened by ocean acidification. We take a simple approach of mapping where the ocean chemistry is changing most rapidly, where vulnerable species are located, and where people who most depend on these species reside. The intersection of these factors reveals an elevated risk from ocean acidification.

Explore these maps to see if your community is at risk as a result of ocean acidification. If it is, examine why and consider actions you, your neighbors, and your legislators can do to reduce that risk. Observe how quickly water chemistry is changing off your shores from fossil fuel emissions and tally the local factors (such as coastal pollution) that might exacerbate these changes in your area. Consider elements that reduce the adaptive capacity of your community. An understanding of where and why regional impacts will occur is critical to preparing for a more acidic ocean. Click here for more information about the study.

See data sources

This synthesis is just the beginning. We examined OA vulnerability in the U.S. through the lens of mollusk harvests. However, people will be affected by OA in other ways. The sensitivity of coral reefs to ocean acidification and their high social value is just one way to expand the assessment and build a more complete picture. We hope the present synthesis will shed new light on the issue of ocean acidification and begin a scientific and public conversation about how we can tackle this problem now to minimize the harm to society.

Collaborating Team

Julia Ekstrom *
Social scientist
Natural Resources
Defense Council
Mike Beck
Coral and shellfish economics
The Nature Conservancy
Dwight Gledhill
Coral reef ecology /geochemistry
Dan Rittschof
Ecology (bivalves)
Duke University
Sarah Cooley *
Ocean chemistry
Ocean Conservancy
Luke Brander
Economics (coral)
Libby Jewett
Policy, monitoring
George Waldbusser
Ecology (bivalves)
Will McClintock *
Informatics, GIS
UCSB, SeaSketch
Josh Cinner
Social scientist
James Cook University
Chris Langdon
Ecology (coral)
RSMAS – University of Miami
Katherine (Trina) Wellman
Economics, shellfish
Northern Economics
Linwood Pendleton *
Duke University - NIEPS
Carolyn Doherty
Research Assistant, Socio-economics
Duke University
Rosimeiry Portela
Economics analysis
Conservation International
Ruben Van Hooidonk
Ecology (coral), climatology
Lisa Suatoni *
OA policy
Natural Resources
Defense Council
Peter Edwards
Economics (coral)
Jessie Ritter
2014 Sea Grant Fellow




This work was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1052875. In addition support was given by the NRDC Science Center. Support to Ruben Van Hooidonk to generate model projections was provided by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program. We thank the institutions and individuals that provided data (click on data layers for sources), and Will McClintock and his lab for use of SeaSketch to enable discussions of spatial data and analysis.