Early detection of ocean acidification effects on marine calcification

Ocean acidification is likely to impact calcification rates in many pelagic organisms, which may in turn cause significant changes in marine ecosystem structure. We examine effects of changes in marine CaCO3 production on total alkalinity (TA) in the ocean using the global biogeochemical ocean model HAMOCC. We test a variety of future calcification scenarios because experimental studies with different organisms have revealed a wide range of calcification sensitivities to CaCO3 saturation state. The model integrations start at a preindustrial steady state in the year 1800 and run until the year 2300 forced with anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Calculated trends in TA are evaluated taking into account the natural variability in ocean carbonate chemistry, as derived from repeat hydrographic transects. We conclude that the data currently available does not allow discerning significant trends in TA due to changes in pelagic calcification caused by ocean acidification. Given different calcification scenarios, our model calculations indicate that the TA increase over time will start being detectable by the year 2040, increasing by 5–30 μmol kg−1 compared to the present-day values. In a scenario of extreme reductions in calcification, large TA changes relative to preindustrial conditions would have occurred at present, which we consider very unlikely. However, the time interval of reliable TA observations is too short to disregard this scenario. The largest increase in surface ocean TA is predicted for the tropical and subtropical regions. In order to monitor and quantify possible early signs of acidification effects, we suggest to specifically target those regions during future ocean chemistry surveys.

Ilyina T., Zeebe R. E., Maier-Reimer E. & C. Heinze C., 2009. Early detection of ocean acidification effects on marine calcification. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 23: GB1008. Article (subscription required).

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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