It would appear that the arctic ocean is becoming more acidic at an alarming rate. Over the last 20+ years the ocean below the north pole has been acidifying quickly, and researchers are wondering when they will begin to see the effects in ecosystem.
Professor Wei-Jun Cai, who was the principal investigator on the project commented that “The Arctic Ocean is the first ocean where we see such a rapid and large-scale increase in acidification, at least twice as fast as that observed in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans,”
This acidification will undoubtedly lead to a reduction in our food supply, as many of the small creatures find it impossible to survive.
Richard Feely, a senior NOAA scientist and co-author of the study points out, “The rapid spread of ocean acidification in the western Arctic has implications for marine life, particularly clams, mussels, and tiny sea snails that may have difficulty building or maintaining their shells in increasingly acidified waters.”
Their press release provides more information on the technical side of this new study:
Scientists measured dissolved inorganic carbon and alkalinity which allows them to calculate pH and the saturation state for aragonite, a carbonate mineral that marine organisms need to build their shells.
Data collected by ship and model simulations suggest that increased Pacific Winter Water (PWW), driven by circulation patterns and retreating sea ice in the summer season, is primarily responsible for this OA expansion, according to Di Qi, the paper’s lead author and a doctoral student of Chen.
PWW comes from the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait and shelf of the Chukchi Sea and into the Arctic basin.
In recent years, melting sea ice has allowed more of the Pacific water to flow through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean. Pacific Ocean water is already high in carbon dioxide and has higher acidity.
As the ocean mass moves north, it absorbs additional carbon dioxide from decomposing organic matter in the water and sediments, increasing acidity.
This acidic environment is expected to reduce the numbers of salmon and crab, and that is just the start. Global warming is the culprit in this situation, and unfortunately there is little we can do at the moment.
“It’s like a melting pond floating on the Arctic Ocean. It’s a thin water mass that exchanges carbon dioxide rapidly with the atmosphere above, causing carbon dioxide and acidity to increase in the meltwater on top of the seawater,” Professor Cai noted. “When the ice forms in winter, acidified waters below the ice become dense and sink down into the water column, spreading into deeper waters.”
Other than monitoring the situation, we are in essence helpless. The ice cap continues to melt, so all we can do is watch and wait to see what the ultimate effects are. There is no certainty in this situation, and the potential outcomes are serious.
This kind of new information underscores the need for us to make climate change a policy priority worldwide, and especially in the United States where carbon intensive energy is being supported by a wildly irresponsible federal government.
We have the ability to use low carbon emission power sources, it is time for us to do so.