Acid in the Arctic (audio)

Arctic waters are rapidly turning acidic, even faster than originally thought. New research from oceanographer Dr. James Orr of the Laboratory for the Sciences of Climate and Environment in Paris predicts that the Arctic Ocean will be corrosive enough to dissolve shells of clams, mussels and others within the next decade. Host Jeff Young talks with Dr. Orr about the mounting crisis in the Arctic Ocean.

YOUNG: As we heard, ocean acidification is one of the looming threats marine scientists are racing to better understand. As seawater absorbs carbon dioxide, it changes the pH. And recent research indicates this acidification could come fastest in the Arctic Ocean. Oceanographer James Orr is with LSCE, the Lab for Sciences of Climate and the Environment in Paris. Dr. Orr, what’s happening in the arctic waters?

ORR: The Arctic is a special case because basically, it’s cold, and, therefore, naturally more prone to acidification. So, CO2 is a gas, and like all gases, it’s more soluble in cold water. It’s not just the temperature. What sets off the Arctic from other areas is fresh water input due to river runoff, and the sea ice melting also has an impact, and actually aggravates the situation and makes it worse still.

YOUNG: So, you’ve done some work looking at what might happen in the pretty near future to the Arctic. What have you learned?

ORR: Within ten years, it’s expected that maybe ten percent of the Arctic Ocean could become corrosive to shells and mussels and clams. You hardly even need a model, you can just look at basic fundamental chemistry and the waters actually will dissolve aragonite, which an important form of shell material. That’s ten percent within ten years, and, as time goes on, as CO2 continues to increase, then it gets worse. At the end of the century, virtually all of the Arctic Ocean, as well as much of the southern ocean around Antarctica has become corrosive to this aragonite material.

Jeff Young, Earth-stream, 9 October 2009. Full article and audio.

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