The Burke-o-Lator monitors how seawater chemistry in Humboldt Bay is altered by ocean acidification. The bottles are used for collecting ocean water samples. Photo: Joe Tyburczy, California Sea Grant

A device that examines how seawater chemistry is affected by ocean acidification has delivered some preliminary results to scientists with the California Sea Grant Extension and they are not looking good for oysters in Humboldt Bay, CA.

The device, called a Burke-o-Lator, named after Oregon State University oceanographer Burke Hales, measures not only acidity, but carbonate saturation state as well. The device, installed a year ago, shows that carbonate saturation in Humboldt Bay is so low that it could impede juvenile oysters and their larvae from building their shells.

“The initial data is interesting, and a bit concerning. Though water in the Bay is less acidic than the nearby open coast, the carbonate saturation is still frequently low enough to cause problems for juvenile oysters and larvae,” California Sea Grant Extension Specialist Joe Tyburczy said in a released statement. “Based on this data, the Hog Island hatchery has begun buffering the seawater they pump into their facility with sodium carbonate to increase the saturation state and pH, protecting their juvenile and larval oysters and helping them grow.”

Ocean acidification causes seawater to becoming acidic, and this acidity often prevents shellfish such as baby oysters, clams and invertebrates such as lobsters and clams from forming shells.

“With continued monitoring and analysis, the instrument will give us insight into what is occurring in the open ocean and how that translates into the bay for the health of the ecosystem and the future of bivalve hatcheries in Humboldt Bay and beyond,” Tyburczy said. “In this way, it has the potential to complement and enhance ongoing ocean acidification research including oceanographic cruises and experiments at Humboldt State’s Telonicher Marine Lab in Trinidad,” Tyburczy says.