Ocean Acidification, Sooner Rather Than Later …

While many of the studies on the potential impacts of ocean acidification focus on potential impacts from approximately twenty years from now to the end of the century. However, a recent study emphasizes that in the Arctic Ocean, the manifestations of acidification may be just around the corner, Michiyo Yamamoto-Kawai, et al., Aragonite Undersaturation in the Arctic Ocean: Effects of Ocean Acidification and Sea Ice Melt, 326 Science 10981100 (2009) (subscription required).

Many studies have predicted that surface waters in higher-latitude oceans will become udnersaturated first in terms of carbonate ions (primarily aragonite and calcite, with aragonite being more soluble). Carbonate ions are required by marine calcifying organisms to produce calcium carbonate shells and skeletons.

Among the take-aways from this study in the Canada Basin of the Arctic Ocean:

  1. The Southern Ocean is projected to become undersaturated with respect to aragonite-type calcium carbonate by 2030 and the North Pacific by 2100. However, model simulations of the Arctic Ocean project that Arctic surface waters will become undersaturated with aragonite within a decade;
  2. The Canada basin is the first deep ocean where surface undersaturation of aragonite has been observed. It’s anticipated that surface waters in the Basin will exit the Arctic Ocean within a decade, which may contribute to undersaturation in northern North Atlantic waters.

One of the most frightening aspects of the imminent manifestations of ocean acidification in ocean ecosystems is that our understanding of potential impacts, as well as potential adaptation responses remains extremely rudimentary. The Arctic is rapidly emerging is as the cutting edge of the “grand geophysical experiment” associated with burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions.

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