The threat that ocean acidification (OA) poses to marine ecosystems is now recognized and U.S. funding agencies have designated specific funding for the study of OA. We present a research framework for studying OA that describes it as a biogeochemical event that impacts individual species and ecosystems in potentially unexpected ways. We draw upon specific lessons learned about ecosystem responses from research on acid rain, carbon dioxide enrichment in terrestrial plant communities, and nitrogen deposition. We further characterize the links between carbon chemistry changes and effects on individuals and ecosystems, and enumerate key hypotheses for testing. Finally, we quantify how U.S. research funding has been distributed among these linkages, concluding that there is an urgent need for research programs designed to anticipate how the effects of OA will reverberate throughout assemblages of species.