Ocean acidification is a global, long-term problem whose ultimate solution requires carbon dioxide reduction at a scope and scale that will take decades to accomplish successfully. Until that is achieved, feasible and locally relevant adaptation and mitigation measures are needed. To help to prioritize societal responses to ocean acidification, we present a spatially explicit, multidisciplinary vulnerability analysis of coastal human communities in the United States. We focus our analysis on shelled mollusc harvests, which are likely to be harmed by ocean acidification. Our results highlight US regions most vulnerable to ocean acidification (and why), important knowledge and information gaps, and opportunities to adapt through local actions. The research illustrates the benefits of integrating natural and social sciences to identify actions and other opportunities while policy, stakeholders and scientists are still in relatively early stages of developing research plans and responses to ocean acidification.

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This work was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1052875. Support for R.v.H. to generate model projections was provided by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program. We thank the institutions and individuals that provided data (see Supplementary Information for full details), and W. McClintock and his laboratory for use of SeaSketch.org to enable collaborative discussions of spatial data and analysis. We are grateful for the contributions and advice provided by E. Jewett throughout the project.

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Author notes

    • Julia A. Ekstrom

    Present address: Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy, University of California at Davis, 1605 Tilia Street 100, Davis 95616, California, USA


  1. Natural Resources Defense Council, 111 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California 94104, USA

    • Julia A. Ekstrom
  2. Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 West 20th Street, New York, New York 10011, USA

    • Lisa Suatoni
  3. Ocean Conservancy, 1300 19th Street NW, Washington DC 20036, USA

    • Sarah R. Cooley
  4. Nicholas Institute, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA

    • Linwood H. Pendleton
  5. Université de Brest, UMR M101, AMURE, OSU-IUEM, Brest, France

    • Linwood H. Pendleton
  6. College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • George G. Waldbusser
  7. ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

    • Josh E. Cinner
  8. Duke University, Duke Marine Laboratory, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA

    • Jessica Ritter
    • , Dan Rittschof
    •  & Carolyn Doherty
  9. Department of Marine Biology and Ecology, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Florida 33149, USA

    • Chris Langdon
  10. NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Miami, Florida 33149, USA

    • Ruben van Hooidonk
  11. NOAA Ocean Acidification Program, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA

    • Dwight Gledhill
  12. Northern Economics, Seattle, Washington 98107, USA

    • Katharine Wellman
  13. The Nature Conservancy, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA

    • Michael W. Beck
  14. Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University, Amsterdam, 1081 HV, The Netherlands

    • Luke M. Brander
  15. Coral Reef Conservation Program, NOAA/National Ocean Service, Office for Coastal Management, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA

    • Peter E. T. Edwards
  16. I.M. Systems Group Inc., Rockville, Maryland 20852, USA

    • Peter E. T. Edwards
  17. Conservation International, Arlington Virginia 22202, USA

    • Rosimeiry Portela


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All authors provided input into data analysis and research design, and participated in at least one SESYNC workshop; J.A.E. led the drafting of the text with main contributions from L.S., S.R.C., L.H.P., G.G.W. and J.E.C.; R.v.H. contributed projections of ocean acidification; L.H.P. contributed shelled mollusc diversity scores; J.A.E., L.S., S.R.C., J.R., L.H.P. and C.D. collected the data; J.A.E. carried out data analysis and mapping.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julia A. Ekstrom.

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