Ocean Acidification Community Sampling

Community members gather water samples in Seldovia to be sent to the Alutiiq Shellfish Hatchery in Seward.

Over 20 communities across Alaska are taking weekly water samples to develop baseline data on ocean acidification. This effort is unique in the U.S. and is primarily coordinated through Tribes. The water samples are used to build an understanding of current local conditions in the nearshore environment, seasonal changes, and potential natural influences. By creating a consistent time series, communities can better understand the current water chemistry in areas that are important for harvesting shellfish and other species they rely on for their subsistence way of life.  The data also fills critical gaps in a broader network of ocean acidification monitoring that includes moorings, underwater gliders, ship-based studies, and the ferry Columbia that runs from Bellingham to Skagway in Southeast Alaska.

Who is sampling?

Sampling is mostly conducted by the designated Tribal environmental coordinator in each community. These coordinators conduct this environmental monitoring alongside other monitoring programs through funding from EPA IGAP program.  In a few communities, science center or agency staff conduct the sampling.


What’s involved in taking a sample?

Collecting a water sample generally takes about 10 minutes. In most communities, samplers dip a 5-gallon bucket into the water to collect ~ 3 gallons of sea water. From the bucket, they fill a clean beer bottle with seawater, record the temperature, add a preserving agent, and cap the bottle. On Kodiak Island, samplers use instruments (YSI and Niskin) to collect surface and subsurface samples. All samplers are trained in the protocols and are sent sampling materials in an action packer from the lab that processes their samples.


What happens to the samples?

Esther Kennedy and Burke Hales (inventor of the Burke-o-Lator) perform maintenance on the Sitka Tribe’s Burke-o-Lator.

Water samples can be stored for weeks or months until a critical mass of bottles are ready to ship to a lab for analysis. Three Tribal programs have taken the lead in coordinating and processing sampling in their region: the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska in Sitka, and the Kodiak Area Native Association in Kodiak. Each of these entities trains community samplers, ships out collection materials, and analyzes the samples using a Burke-o-Lator. A Burke-o-Lator is a system that measures a suite of carbon chemistry parameters critical to ocean acidification: pCO2, TCO2. temperature and salinity. Using these four parameters, the saturation state of aragonite and pH are determined in real-time. Aragonite is a form of calcium carbonate that is critical to shell formation, and the aragonite saturation state provides a unit of measurement for how favorable the water is to shell-building organisms.

A consistent time series spanning multiple years is ideal for interpreting the data and understanding the natural variability. An effort is already underway to analyze and interpret some of the data collected so far. This science poster describes findings from southcentral Alaska.

Statewide collaboration

The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network has established a Tribal Monitoring Working Group to help community samplers and their Tribal coordinating organizations connect and collaborate. The goals are to:

  • Expand tribal capacity for research and monitoring and support Tribes taking the lead in some areas in Alaska which are under sampled by university and agency researchers
  • Create consistency in data collection
  • Partner with researchers to build local capacity.

Is your community interested in sampling?  A few things need to be in place before a new community can be added. We can help connect you with the regional program in your area to start the conversation. Contact Darcy Dugan (dugan@aoos.org) or Davin Holen (dlholen@alaska.edu).


This short video by the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery shows community sampling efforts in Southcentral Alaska.


Communities Currently Sampling

Communities by Region When sampling began Analysis Lab
Craig 2019 Sitka Tribe (SEATOR)
Hoonah 2017 Sitka Tribe (SEATOR)
Juneau 2018 Sitka Tribe (SEATOR)
Ketchikan 2017 Sitka Tribe (SEATOR)
Petersburg 2018 Sitka Tribe (SEATOR)
Sitka 2017 Sitka Tribe (SEATOR)
Skagway 2019 Sitka Tribe (SEATOR)
Yakutat 2018 Sitka Tribe (SEATOR)
Wrangell 2018 Sitka Tribe (SEATOR)
Chenega 2020 Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery
Eyak 2019 Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery
Nanwalek 2017 Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery
Port Graham 2019 Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery
Seldovia 2017 Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery )
Kodiak-Trident Basin Float Dock 2019 NOAA Kodiak Lab
Larsen Bay 2019 NOAA Kodiak Lab
Old Harbor 2019 NOAA Kodiak Lab
Ouzinkie 2019 NOAA Kodiak Lab
Port Lions 2019 NOAA Kodiak Lab
King Cove 2019 Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery
Nome 2019 Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery
Kotzebue 2019 Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery
Utqiagvik 2019 Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery

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