Waves beating against a rocky shoreline under a blue sky

Silbiger receives NSF support to study how acidified oceans will change life on rocky shores

CSUN Assistant Professor of Biology Nyssa Silbiger has been awarded a major new grant through the National Science Foundation’s CAREER program. The funding, totaling more than $800,000, will support years of new research and student training to help understand how ocean acidification is impacting the communities of living things in the rocky intertidal — the famous tide pools of California’s Pacific coast.

Ocean acidification, in which carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels lowers the pH of seawater, is already recognized as a growing hazard for sea life. The change in water chemistry can alter the ability of calcifying organisms like reef-forming corals, and creates metabolic stress even for organisms that don’t construct calcified protections from their environment. Silbiger’s new project will track changes in the water chemistry at different intertidal sites to determine how the “ecosystem metabolism” — the collective respiration and photosynthesis of all the living things at a site — responds to changes in acidity. It will also harness a 16-year record on the species living in specific intertidal sites to “hindcast”, reconstructing conditions when acidification and climate warming were less severe than they are today.

CAREER grants provide funding over five year periods, and Silbiger anticipates that over the course of the project the new award will support 35 undergraduate research assistants as well as up to three Master’s students. She will also use the grant funding to further develop her work cultivating training in “data science” at CSUN, with an annual bootcamp to help undergraduates get started in programming and statistical analysis using the open-source language R.

Image: The rocky shoreline of Asilomar State Beach near Monterey, California (photo by Jeremy Yoder)