Lauren Frisch BCEP ’14 Co-Authors Study in March Issue of Marine Policy

We are thrilled to announce Bard Center for Environmental Policy grad Lauren Frisch ’14  has co-authored the study “Gauging Public Perceptions of Ocean Acidification in Alaska”, a continuation of her master’s thesis research work with  faculty advisors Gautam Sethi and Jennifer Phillips using statistical tools and research methods she learned while at BardCEP.  She completed this paper along with her colleagues at the Ocean Acidification Research Center (OARC) , a part of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks with the full report to be published in Marine Policy vol. 53, March 2015 and currently online via here.

Ocean Acidification (OA) definition:

“The scientific phenomenon in which carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean changes the water’s ph balance, making it more acidic. Often referred to as “the sister problem to climate change.” Organisms that build calcium carbonate shells for themselves are the first to be negatively effected by OA as they are unable to pull the carbonate they need from the water to build those shells.

This has the potential to be a problem for the fish and crab industry in Alaska. One of the earliest organisms to show negatives side effects of acidification is the pteropod, a small snail that “flies” through the water and is a key staple in many ocean dweller diets. Colder waters can hold a larger amount of carbon dioxide, meaning they can be more acidic than their southern neighbors. Combine this with Alaska’s freshwater glacier run-off—water that contains none of the nutrients found in oceanic water— mixing into the oceanic waters and the problem becomes exacerbated.” *


While ocean acidification (OA) poses a significant threat to ocean-related ecosystems and communities reliant on marine fisheries, aquaculture, and coral reef systems, limited public understanding and awareness can prevent coastal regions from being able to adequately assess the need for OA adaptation or mitigation. This study assessed public understanding of OA and how social and demographic factors influence the public’s concern for OA. The analysis was based on 311 questionnaires from full-time Alaska residents. The results showed that most Alaskans self-reported to have a basic awareness of OA, and subsequently were able to recognize that CO2 emissions related to human activity are the dominant driver of changing ocean conditions. However, there was a low recognition of how natural variability in the marine environment affects OA, and most respondents were not very confident in their understanding of OA-related science. Moreover, even though many communities in Alaska are reliant on commercial and subsistence fishing activities, the respondents had a low awareness of fisheries-related OA risk. Given the ongoing debate associated with climate change research, evaluating CO2 mitigation efforts through the perspective of OA could give individuals an unbiased way to assess the pros and cons of more intensive efforts to curb CO2 emissions. Furthermore, using OA communication to enhance the understanding of how natural variability influences OA around the state and the potential economic implications for Alaska fisheries would help residents and stakeholders make informed decisions when considering fisheries management plans, food security, and job diversity as OA intensifies. Solidifying the understanding that any reduction in pH and intensification of OA can have implications for marine species that are irreversible on human timescales will reinforce not only that OA is an immediate concern, but also the importance of taking action now.

Key Findings:

• Alaska seafood is a primary annual source of protein for 30 to 46% of respondents.
• Awareness of OA is about three times higher in Alaska than the rest of the US.
• Most respondents recognize CO2 and human activity as drivers of OA.
• Only 28% of respondents recognize that OA could disproportionately impact Alaska.
• Delayed concern for OA could delay willingness to adopt mitigation strategies.


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