EPA funds ocean acidification observation system at SMCC

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has provided $85,000 toward a state-of-the-art ocean observing system at Southern Maine Community College to help coastal managers evaluate the threat of coastal acidification from excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The system, which was deployed in April at the SMCC pier, uses high-tech sensors to provide precise measurements of seawater acidity, dissolved carbon dioxide, salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen. It’s the first time a system has been deployed to monitor water quality in a near-shore coastal environment with the precision and accuracy to discern minute, long-term changes in seawater chemistry. To date, ocean acidification monitoring has been focused primarily on the open ocean.

The project is a collaborative effort among the EPA, SMCC, the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the University of New Hampshire, Friends of Casco Bay and the Northeast Coastal Acidification Network. Officials from those agencies and organizations visited SMCC’s South Portland Campus on Wednesday, Sept. 9, to showcase the initiative.

Besides providing invaluable data for scientists, the system is being used as a learning tool for students in SMCC’s Marine Science program, said SMCC President Ron Cantor.

“It gives our students experience collecting and analyzing data and learning how the ecosystem is changing,” he said. “Our students are part of cutting edge research on an issue of vital importance. This is experiential, hands-on learning at its best.”

Ocean acidification is a significant and harmful consequence of excess CO2, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere. When CO2 enters the ocean, it combines with seawater to produce carbonic acid, which increases the acidity of the water and poses threats to marine life.