top of page


South Carolina's coast is rapidly developing but there are no coastal acidification monitoring programs in the state. Like other estuaries, marsh habitats and tidal creeks can have extremely high carbon dioxide content and low pH as a function of biological activity. Nevertheless, shifts in these extremes could impact South Carolina's culturally and economically important coastal  resources.



South Carolina does not have any ongoing acidification monitoring programs. The primary source of carbon chemistry information in South Carolina is from existing water quality programs that collect pH data. Complexities in pH measurement methods can limit the utility of these water quality programs for understanding long-term acidification trends, but this data, along with data from offshore and nearby states, could provide clues into South Carolina's future. 

  • IS CARBON DIOXIDE INCREASING?  The lack of monitoring limits our understanding of acidification trends in the state, particularly in the dynamic estuaries. Water quality data from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System's ACE Basin and North Inlet-Winyah Bay do not show significant declines in average pH from 2002 to 2015. There is evidence that carbon dioxide is increasing on the shelf off the South Carolina coast and throughout the South Atlantic Bight. 

  • WHY? Scientists have found that this increasing trend in the South Atlantic Bight can be attributed to increased temperatures and increased carbon coming from rivers and marshes. When this organic carbon is broken down by microbes, COis released and oxygen is consumed (just like when humans breathe). The rate of this breakdown increases in warmer temperatures. One important consideration is whether sea level rise will further increase this CO2 export from marshes in the future.

Monitoring Locations:​

  • ACE BASIN AND NORTH INLET-WINYAH BAY: These two estuarine sites are part of the  National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) with ongoing water quality sampling programs and pH measurements. The NERRS data can be accessed here

  • UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA/UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE: Dr. Wei-Jun Cai's laboratory has been engaged in carbonate chemistry sampling in the South Atlantic Bight, including off the South Carolina coast, since the late 1990s. Access Dr. Cai's publications here

  • ECOA: The East Coast Ocean Acidification (ECOA) cruise (formerly the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast Carbon Cruise) passes by once every 3 years with a transect off the South Carolina coast. The research cruise is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric's Ocean Acidification Program. 



There is little research in South Carolina on the effects of acidification on the state's natural resources. Research from other states suggest some South Carolina resources could be vulnerable. 



Estuaries and the organisms within them are vital cultural and economic resources in South Carolina. 

  • OYSTER HARVESTING:  Oyster landings have increased seven-fold in South Carolina between 2007 and 2016 with the state accounting for a large portion of the oyster production in the South Atlantic Region. Due to a 2014 moratorium on oyster seed imports from states north, nearly all oyster seed for South Carolina oyster mariculture comes from a single hatchery.  There is evidence that other species of oysters can be bred to be more resilient to acidification

  • OYSTER RESTORATION: Organized oyster restoration efforts in South Carolina began in 2001.  These efforts place bags of oysters shells along shorelines that attract oyster larvae to settle on them. Research in the Chesapeake Bay show these restoration efforts can help buffer against low pH conditions

  • SOCIAL VULNERABILITY: South Carolina's social vulnerability of shellfisheries to acidification is considered medium because of the sensitivity of harvested species, poorly buffered rivers and localized potential for acidification, and low adaptation capacity . 


Lou Burnett

College of Charleston

Lou Burnett is a professor emeritus of biology at the College of Charleston. He studies the responses of marine organisms to hypoxia and elevated CO2 and is interested in the effects of these two variables on animal performance and innate immunity. He was the former president of the Southern Association of Marine Laboratories and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Photo credit for all images on this page: Travis Nickey, used with permission

bottom of page