'We were shocked': Scientists discover Arctic Ocean acidifying up to four times the rate of other seas

Image credits: Scientists taking water samples in the north Atlantic, with terrifying results [Di Qi and Zhongyong Gao, Third Institute of Oceanography, State Oceanic Administration of China, Xiamen, China]

The acidification of the Arctic Ocean is occurring at quadruple the rate of Earth's other seas, according to a new study that was published in the journal Science and reported by The Guardian on Thursday.

By Brandon Gage

Anthropomorphic climate change has disproportionately impacted the Arctic and Antarctic regions, which under normal conditions reflect solar radiation. This is a key tenet of the planet's self-cooling process, known as the albedo effect. But the accumulation of greenhouse gases like CO2, methane, and water vapor in the atmosphere – which are byproducts of burning carbon – has destabilized these processes.

"The ocean, which absorbs a third of all of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, has grown more acidic because of fossil fuel use. Rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic region over the past three decades has accelerated the rate of long-term acidification," The Guardian noted. "Researchers from the Polar and Marine Research Institute at Jimei University, China, and the School of Marine Science and Policy at the University of Delaware in the US, say rapid sea-ice loss exposes seawater to the atmosphere, promoting takeup of carbon dioxide at a faster rate than in the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Antarctic and sub-Antarctic basins."

Researchers expressed astonishment at the disruption rate, which underscores the fragility of Earth's systems.

“In other ocean systems, acidification is being driven by an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is increasing at a rate of around 2ppm [parts per million] per year,” paper author Wei-Jun Cai, a marine chemistry expert at the University of Delaware, said. “We were shocked to see acidification is happening three to four times faster."

The consequences of continued acidification – which are exacerbated by melting sea ice – are profound. For example, the disappearance of glaciers reduces the salinity [salt content] of seawater, throwing currents that drive weather patterns out of balance. It also impedes "the buffering capacity of the water, its ability to resist acidification,” Cai said.

The survey's findings also have "huge implications" for marine life.

"In lower latitudes, you have coral reefs and if you add carbon dioxide to the water, the carbon saturation rate will increase and the coral won’t grow,” Cai explained, emphasizing that "we are far from knowing what the cost is for biological systems. We don’t know what organisms could be affected. This is something the biological community needs to look into.”

Source: Alter Net

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