The Arctic Ocean is particularly sensitive to climate change and ocean acidification such that aragonite saturation state is expected to become undersaturated (Ωarag <1) there sooner than in other oceans. However, the extent and expansion rate of ocean acidification (OA) in this region are still unknown.
In the March 2017 issue of Nature Climate Change, Qi et al. show that, between 1994 and 2010, low Ωarag waters have expanded northwards at least 5º, to 85ºN, and deepened from 100 m to 250 m depth. Data from multiple trans-western Arctic Ocean cruises show that Ωarag<1 water has increased in the upper 250 m from 5 to 31% of the total area north of 70ºN. Tracer data and model simulations suggest that increased transport of Pacific Winter Water (which is already acidified due to both natural and anthropogenic sources), driven by sea-ice retreat and the circulation changes, are primarily responsible for the expansion, while local carbon recycling and anthropogenic CO2 uptake have also contributed. These results indicate more rapid acidification is occurring in the Arctic Ocean, two to four times faster than the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, with the western Arctic Ocean the first open-ocean region with large-scale expansion of “acidified” water directly observed in the upper water column.
The rapid spread of ocean acidification in the western Arctic has implications for marine life, particularly clams, mussels and pteropods that may have difficulty building or maintaining their shells in increasingly acidified waters. The pteropods are part of the Arctic food web and important to the diet of salmon and herring. Their decline could affect the larger marine ecosystem.
Richard A. Feely (NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory)
Leif G. Anderson (Univ. of Gothenburg)
Heng Sun (SOA Third Institute of Oceanography)
Jianfang Chen (SOA Second Institute of Oceanography
Min Chen (Univ. of Delaware)
Liyang Zhan (SOA Third Institute of Oceanography)
Yuanhui Zhang (SOA Third Institute of Oceanography)
Wei-Jun Cai (Univ. of Delaware, Univ. of Georgia)