Two Falmouth students joined scientists and legislators at the Ocean Acidification Roundtable at the Woods Hole Research Center on Monday, March 28, to talk about how a more acidic ocean can affect sea life.
Sarah Theiler, a 6th grader at Morse Pond School, and Charles Xu, a 9th grader at Falmouth High School, presented their posters from the Falmouth public schools' science fair during the lunchtime break at the meeting.
“It seems like a great honor,” Charles said of being chosen to present his poster at the meeting.
At the roundtable, Anne Cohen, associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, spoke about the vulnerability of mollusks to more acidic conditions in the ocean. In higher acidity, shells may not develop normally and dissolve.
Sarah chose a project that tested this idea.
“I did a lot of research,” Sarah said. “I had no idea about ocean acidification before.”
She gathered shellfish including oysters, jingle shells, and scallops from Tarpaulin Cove and put them in sea water adjusted at different pH levels by using vinegar.
The first sample had only seawater, the second had half a milliliter of vinegar added, and the third was half vinegar and half sea water.
In the more acidic samples the shellfish had different degrees of shell loss. One oyster fully dissolved and some scallops lost up to 92.5 percent of their weight.
“It made me think about how much carbon dioxide we are putting in the air, and how it affects everyone around us,” Sarah said.
Charles studied emiliania huxleyi, a phytoplankton that secretes a calcium carbonate coating around itself and how different levels of carbon dioxide affected it.
He exposed the phytoplankton to current levels of carbon dioxide, predicted levels at the end of 21st century and projected levels past that.
His results suggested that at higher levels of carbon dioxide, the phytoplankton were apparently stressed, affecting photosynthesis.
“Falmouth is affected by changes in the ocean,” said Charles. "Looking at ocean acidification is important at a local and global level.”
Both students presented their posters to Congressman Keating.