Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Assessment

Hello Everyone!

Time has been flying by and I wanted to give an update on my Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Fellowship experience. In my fellowship position (which began in December of 2021) I’ve been working with the water quality assessment program team at Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). My primary task in this role is to support the development of water quality assessment methodologies for assessing biological impacts related to Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (OAH) in Oregon’s marine waters. Once completed, DEQ will use these methodologies to interpret water quality data and report to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on water quality status and trends in Oregon.

2022 was a packed year for me, mainly consisting of coordinating and working with a technical workgroup of OAH research and policy specialists that was convened to assist DEQ in the development of these OAH assessment methodologies. Much of the development process over the last year has been centered around a series of meetings with technical workgroup members to define science and policy questions relevant to this process and synthesize available research and information to help answer those questions. Through this process it has been a pleasure for me to work with such a wide range of leading OAH researchers and experts across the West Coast.

I’m also happy to report that my fellowship has been extended an additional year! So far 2023 has been very different than 2022. This year, the team at DEQ has shifted gears from coordinating and holding meetings with the technical workgroup to drafting the methodologies. We are currently working on two types of documents.

  1. The first is a technical paper that outlines the rationale, process, and approach DEQ is proposing to take to assess OAH impacts for water quality assessment.
  2. The second is a set of assessment procedures, these procedures outline the details of how DEQ will process and use data to determine whether impacts to aquatic life are taking place. We are drafting two assessment procedures, one based around understanding impacts related to Ocean Acidification (carbonate chemistry changes affecting shell forming marine species), and another based on impacts related to Hypoxia (changes in low dissolved oxygen conditions).

As these drafts are finalized, they will be going through a series of review processes, including a public comment period this spring, where the documents will be available for the public to review. I’ll be sure to provide updates on the process!

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Glider Deployment

Hello Everyone!

With summer coming to a close I wanted to share a great experience I had earlier this month tagging along with researchers from OSU for the deployment of an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Glider (“glider” for short) off the coast of Washington. Not only was it good to get out of the office a bit, but it was also a wonderful opportunity to learn first-hand about some of the advanced oceanographic monitoring and research that is being done off the coast. It was also great to meet Dr. Jack Barth in person, he is the director of the Marine Studies Initiative and professor of Oceanography at Oregon State University, and someone who I’ve been meeting with (virtually) over the last 9 months in the OAH technical workgroup.

Glider Basics

Underwater gliders, which look like small rockets with wings, use pumps to transfer seawater in and out of a holding chamber in the nose, causing the glider’s density to change (either sink or rise). With the help of the attached wings this vertical movement in water is translated to forward motion. What results is a series of dives, where optical, CTD (conductivity, temp, salinity), and oxygen sensors collect data at one second intervals. Numerous dives are strung together into segments and punctuated by trips to the surface to transmit data back to the lab. Gliders can be deployed for weeks at time and can be used for a wide variety of research and monitoring applications. Glider research has evolved dramatically over the last couple of decades and is now considered a foundational piece of modern oceanographic observation systems. More information on the integration of glider monitoring into the national Integrated Ocean Observing Network (IOOS) can be found here.

Loading the glider at the Westport WA bayfront. Photo by Jack Barth

Glider Deployment Trip

Our outing began at the bayfront in Westport Washington, where I met up with Dr. Barth and Dr. Steve Pierce, as well as an OSU student assisting with the deployment. After loading the glider onto the charter boat, we motored offshore for a little over an hour. Once we reached the deployment coordinates Dr. Pierce conducted some tests to make sure the glider was communicating properly with the lab before it was launched. Once in the water the glider performed a test dive to make sure everything was functioning correctly before it was sent it on its 2-week deployment. As a special bonus, two grey whales decided to pay us a surprise visit at the deployment location, it was an excellent sighting and we saw some great fluking before each dive!

Preparing to deploy the glider. Photo by Jack Barth
Fluking Grey Whales. Photo by Kaegan Scully-Engelmeyer

Glider Data and DEQ Water Quality Assessment

As gliders collect continuous data while moving across a large spatial area, they generate datasets that are fundamentally different than most continuous monitoring data currently assessed from Oregon’s water quality monitoring network, which is generally collected at fixed locations. This difference complicates the use of raw glider measurements in the existing data processing/assessment framework at DEQ. There is some guidance on the state and federal levels outlining protocols for using and assimilating this type of data into water quality assessments to identify impaired waters required by Clean Water Act. For example, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEQ equivalent in that state) implemented a glider monitoring program and developed quality assurance procedures to monitor and assess hypoxia in the state’s marine waters. Going forward it will be interesting to explore ways to integrate glider data into nearshore OAH water quality assessment protocols to help identify impaired waters.

Ocean Acidification Science-Policy Translation

Hello again! Hard for me to believe, but I recently passed the six month-mark in my Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia fellowship with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). As I talked about in my last post, I’ve been working with the water quality assessment team at DEQ, and assisting in the development of procedures to assess biological impacts of Ocean Acidification (OA) and Hypoxia in Oregon’s near shore waters for the purposes of Clean Water Act 303(d) assessment. DEQ has convened a technical workgroup of scientists, researchers, and partner agency staff to help answer critical technical questions as we develop assessment procedures to understand impacts of these stressors. So far, my main task in this fellowship has been to help coordinate this workgroup towards this end. Since my last post we’ve been continuing to work with a subgroup of workgroup members versed in both scientific and policy perspectives to draft OA assessment procedures and an accompanying set of technical questions to bring to the full workgroup for refinement. We’ve had three meetings with the subgroup and are making progress on the set of questions and draft procedures. As we proceed with this workgroup made up of individuals with such a wide array of expertise and specialization across this topic area I thought I would share a couple of underlying elements of this process we’ve been considering and discussing as we formulate the set of questions for the technical group.

One challenging aspect of this process comes down to the inherent differences between scientists and policymakers in terms of approaches and methods of communicating knowledge and information. Translation between scientific research and information needs for policy development hinges on considering both styles of communication and making sure a shared understanding exists around terminology. The same terms can mean very different things depending on usage and context, so defining some key terms has been critical in this process.

Another key element of this translation involves the synthesis of information and ensuring the appropriate type and level of detail is included in conversations and questions, it’s easy to get “in the weeds” when talking about a complex topic such as OAH. One way we are currently addressing this is to divide our questions into a sequence of information needs, which has helped organize the dizzying amount of technical information we will be gathering into a structured framework. Finding the right level of detail to include along this sequence, especially in terms of how each question fits into DEQ’s overall assessment picture, has been an interesting iterative process, and I’m sure it will continue to be.

Overall, I’ve found that working in the subgroup has created opportunities for excellent discussions around these and other process-based factors that underly this work, and I’m looking forward to continuing to incorporate these elements into the remainder of my fellowship.

Assessing Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia impacts in Oregon

Hello Everyone! My name is Kaegan Scully-Engelmeyer and I am thrilled to have joined the Oregon Sea Grant Scholars as the 2021-22 Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (OAH) Fellow with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Since starting this fellowship in December I have joined the water quality assessment team at DEQ and have been supporting the coordination and organization of a recently formed OAH scientific-technical workgroup. The workgroup has been convened to assist DEQ in developing procedures for assessing the biological impacts of OAH in Oregon’s territorial waters (which extend three nautical miles from the shoreline). In this post I’ll give a simplified overview of Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia as water quality stressors, and then share some of the details of DEQ’s water quality assessment process. In future posts I’ll get more in depth about each of these areas.

Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia as water quality stressors (simplified):

Ocean Acidification (OA): As carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere, around 30% of it is stored in the ocean. In the simplest terms, Ocean Acidification refers to a series of carbonate chemistry reactions in which increasing levels of CO2 in the ocean lowers the pH of the water. This change in chemistry has been shown to negatively impact certain types of ocean dwelling species, particularly those that form a calcified shell. In recent years OA research has seen a swift rise in the coastal and oceanographic scientific community, as scientists work to understand current and future impacts to ocean health and ocean-reliant economies.

Hypoxia: Hypoxia in this case refers to low dissolved oxygen conditions. In Oregon’s marine waters these conditions occur mainly because of a process called upwelling, wherein low oxygen/nutrient rich water from deep in the ocean is brought into the upper water column. As nutrient rich water is exposed to light, phytoplankton (microscopic plants) bloom and their resulting decomposition uses oxygen, lowering the amount of dissolved oxygen available in the water column. As you can guess, these low oxygen conditions can have a negative impact on aquatic species. These processes are naturally occurring phenomena here off the coast of Oregon, but in recent years climatic shifts controlling the extent and duration of upwelling have led to longer upwelling seasons, expanding the area and duration of these low oxygen events.

If you’re interested, here is link to two short videos that dive a little deeper into these processes and how they relate to Oregon, I highly recommend checking them out.

Water quality assessment:

The Water Quality Assessment Program at DEQ is responsible for assessing and reporting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the condition of Oregon’s surface waters every two years. The water quality assessment team relies on water quality data collected internally at DEQ as well as data and information submitted during a public call for data. These data are assessed and compared to existing water quality criteria to determine if a waterbody is not meeting the criteria or impaired. A list of impaired waters is submitted to EPA as a part of the DEQ’s Integrated Report every two years. If you’re interested in a more detailed breakdown, DEQ’s assessment team created a great story map that walks through the assessment and Integrated Report process.

DEQ does not (yet) have a defined procedure to assess the impacts of OAH on biological life in Oregon’s marine waters. As you can imagine, it is a uniquely challenging endeavor to assess biological impacts related to OAH conditions in an environment such as the ocean, one that is constantly changing and influenced by so many large-scale processes and factors. This is why the assistance of this technical workgroup is so critical in developing a robust and scientifically sound assessment procedure. We’ve had one full workgroup meeting so far and are currently working in a subgroup format to develop a draft assessment procedure to workshop with larger group. Thus far working with the assessment team at DEQ and the technical workgroup members from across the region has been an excellent experience, and I am looking forward to continuing to make progress towards OAH assessment procedures.