Working Group: Coastal Hypoxia in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem

Hypoxia is an escalating threat to the world’s coastal waters, with severe consequences for marine ecosystems and the fisheries they support. Over the last several decades, analyses have consistently highlighted declines in the concentration of dissolved O2 in the ocean.

These events and the accompanying mass mortalities of benthic organisms have raised awareness of the vulnerability of coastal systems to hypoxia and concern about consequences for coastal species and ecosystems that support important economic sectors, including fisheries and tourism. Models and analyses of long-term data suggest that recent expansion and occurrence of hypoxic conditions may be associated with climate change.

Independent of the intense debate on whether the observed trends towards increasing hypoxia are due to anthropogenic climate change, hypoxic events on continental shelves and in open coastal areas have important impacts on the structure, function, and flow of coastal marine ecosystem services.

By comparing and analyzing historical oxygen datasets across multiple ecosystems and leveraging the available knowledge to predict how hypoxic events affect species, communities, and ecosystem processes, we can better account for hypoxic stress in future management strategies.

Large algal blooms, like this one off of La Jolla, CA, can cause hypoxic events as the algae decay.  Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

Project Updates

In April 2016, the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Panel released their Major Findings, Recommendations and Actions report. Dr. Ali Boehm, a COS-affiliated researcher, contributed her expertise in coastal water quality monitoring to the panel as a co-chair. Based on growing interest in such an important topic at the local, state and national levels, COS has begun investigating ways it can engage in implementation of a variety of the panel’s recommendations. Through coordination with the Ocean Protection Council (OPC), the Ocean Science Trust, and other state agencies, COS is identifying the most opportune path for engagement. Early scoping has highlighted opportunities to engage in research and mapping needs around blue carbon—carbon sequestration from coastal vegetation—and its role in mitigating climate change.

In collaboration with the Woods Institute, the Ocean Protection Council, and the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, COS co-hosted an Uncommon Dialogue in October 2016 on setting water quality goals that could help curb the effects of ocean acidification and hypoxia along the California Coast. The workshop's objectives included identifying possible chemical parameters and biological indicators, research priorities, and impediments for developing OAH relevant water quality standards. In January 2017, the meeting organizers released a meeting summary report and accompanying e-news article outlining key findings.