The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has helped pay for marine research at the University of Washington since 1977, providing money that supports 120 UW scientists and staff positions. Now NOAA will add up to $4 million more a year and partner with UW researchers who are studying some of the world's thorniest ocean problems.

Researchers at a laboratory in the San Juan Islands will study how shifting ocean chemistry may alter the marine food web. Others will examine how climate change may affect billion-dollar fisheries for pollock and crab in the Bering Sea.

Those are just some of the many ocean-science projects the federal government will help pay for now that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has increased its research contribution to the University of Washington.

On Wednesday, NOAA announced it would expand its financial commitment to ocean research at UW by several million dollars a year.

NOAA has helped pay for marine research at the UW since 1977, providing money that supports 120 UW scientists and staff positions in Seattle. Now NOAA will add up to $4 million more a year and partner with UW researchers who are studying some of the world’s thorniest ocean problems.

Thomas Ackerman, director of the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean, part of UW’s new College of the Environment, said the additional money will allow the UW to take on more students and researchers to learn about everything from tsunami modeling and the thermal venting of gases along the ocean floor to the ways climate change could increase harmful algae blooms in Puget Sound.

For scientist Terrie Klinger, it means a chance to take a more detailed look at how changing climate and ocean conditions will affect marine life in the Northwest.

Currently, researchers at the Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island are constructing giant tanks in which they can adjust carbon-dioxide levels to see how that affects the acidity of saltwater and all the life within it, particularly the plankton that serve as the base of the food chain.

“Right now we have money for facilities only,” said Klinger, an associate professor at UW’s School of Marine Affairs. Before NOAA’s contribution, “we didn’t have money to actually perform the science.”

Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or cwelch@seattletimes.com