National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

The carbonate chemistry of the 'fattening line', Willapa Bay, 2011–2014

Hales, B., A. Suhrbier, G.G. Waldbusser, R.A. Feely, and J. Newton

Estuar. Coast., 40(1), 173–186, doi: 10.1007/s12237-016-0136-7 (2017)

Willapa Bay has received a great deal of attention in the context of rising atmospheric CO2 and the concomitant effects of changes in bay carbonate chemistry, referred to as ocean acidification, and the potential effects on the bay’s naturalized Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) population and iconic oyster farming industry. Competing environmental stressors, historical variability in the oyster settlement record, and the absence of adequate historical observations of bay-water carbonate chemistry all conspire to cast confusion regarding ocean acidification as the culprit for recent failures in oyster larval settlement. We present the first measurements of the aqueous CO2 partial pressure (PCO2) and the total dissolved carbonic acid (TCO2) at the “fattening line,” a location in the bay that has been previously identified as optimal for both larval oyster retention and growth, and collocated with a long historical time series of larval settlement. Samples were collected from early 2011 through late 2014. These measurements allow the first rigorous characterization of Willapa Bay aragonite mineral saturation state (Ωar), which has been shown to be of leading importance in determining the initial shell formation and growth of larval Crassostrea gigas. Observations show that the bay is usually below Ωar levels that have been associated with poor oyster hatchery production and with chronic effects noted in experimental work. Bay water only briefly rises to favorable Ωar levels and does so out of phase with optimal thermal conditions for spawning. Thermal and carbonate conditions are thus coincidentally favorable for early larval development for only a few weeks at a time each year. The limited concurrent exceedance of thermal and Ωar thresholds suggests the likelihood of high variability in settlement success, as seen in the historical record; however, estimates of the impact of elevated atmospheric CO2 suggest that pre-industrial Ωar conditions were more persistently favorable for larval development and more broadly coincident with thermal optima.

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