Published at 2020, July 2nd
The ocean area around the Arctic is becoming increasingly acidic. Ocean acidification is a very serious phenomenon, observed all over the world for several decades now, that could destroy a large part of marine ecosystems.
The Oceans Are Increasingly Acidific As They Absorb CO2 Emissions
When the atmosphere becomes charged with CO2, a significant share (between one third and half) of these gases dissolves gradually in ocean water. Once dissolved, these gases produce carbonic acid, among other things, which makes the ocean increasingly acidic as its pH drops.
Ocean acidification has many consequences. First, it slows the development of plankton, which produces much of the Earth’s oxygen. It also weakens and destroys corals and other organisms made up of limestone or calcium derivatives. Ocean acidification is also known for disrupting the biological cycles of marine animals.
Unfortunately, a recent study published in the journal Nature has shown that ocean acidification could be worse than what previous estimates suggested, particularly in the Arctic Ocean.
We’re Better At Forecasting Ocean Acidification
Climate or environmental forecasting models are complex: they work by analyzing and comparing hundreds of variables, on dozens of different hypotheses, to try to understand how ecosystems can evolve according to the changes they are subject to.
For decades, these models have been more and more sophisticated and more and more reliable. We are now able to predict with very good precision the evolution of temperatures as a function of the increase in the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere, as well as other phenomena such as the displacement and the transformation of rain or wind regimes.
Very recently, researchers from French research centers (Ecole Normale Supérieure / PSL Université, CNRS, Ecole Polytechnique, Sorbonne Université, Paris, France) have updated the models intended to assess how the acidity of the oceans is changing based on CO2 emissions, using the so-called “emerging constraints” method.
Ocean Acidification Is Greater Than Expected
Using these new methods, researchers have studied how atmospheric changes will affect Arctic waters. Their results show that if CO2 continues to increase during the 21st century, the Arctic Ocean could absorb 12% more than what previous models expected.
As a result, a CO2 excess will likely lead to greater acidification of Arctic waters, especially between 200 and 1,000 meters deep – areas of fundamental development for aquatic organisms.
It is, therefore, likely that these ecosystems will become even more fragile than what previous climate models predicted.
The Chain Effects of Ocean Acidification on Ecosystems
Arctic areas are already the most exposed to rising temperatures, and this additional, unexpected acidification, will likely further weaken these ecosystems which are essential for planetary balances.
Indeed, the study suggests that a very large part of the Arctic Ocean could be undersaturated in calcite by the end of the century, with consequences for the entire ecosystem. Food chains could be disrupted by the gradual disappearance of plankton, crustaceans could be exposed to a significant reduction in their habitat, and all this could quickly affect mammals and large arctic animals.
These biochemical and physical changes could also help transform the Arctic region – which acts as a buffer to global warming – even faster, thus further exacerbating the phenomenon. This, therefore, a real chain reaction situation that might take place much faster than what was initially thought.
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