Observed trends of anthropogenic acidification in North Atlantic water masses

The lack of observational pH data has made difficult assessing recent rates of ocean acidification, particularly in the high latitudes. Here we present a time series of high-quality carbon system measurements in the North Atlantic, comprising fourteen cruises spanning over 27 yr (1981–2008) and covering important water mass formation areas like the Irminger and Iceland basins. We provide direct quantification of anthropogenic acidification rates in upper and intermediate North Atlantic waters by removing the natural variability of pH from the observations. Bottle data were normalised to basin-average conditions using climatological data and further condensed into averages per water mass and year to examine the temporal trends. The highest acidification rates of all inspected water masses were associated with surface waters in the Irminger Sea (−0.0018 ± 0.0001 yr−1) and the Iceland Basin (−0.0012 ± 0.0002 yr−1) and, unexpectedly, with Labrador Seawater (LSW) which experienced an unprecedented pH drop of −0.0015 ± 0.001 yr−1. The latter stems from the formation by deep convection and the rapid propagation in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre of this well-ventilated water mass. The high concentrations of anthropogenic CO2 are effectively transported from the surface into intermediate waters faster than via downward diffusion, thus accelerating the acidification rates of LSW. An extrapolation of the observed lineal trends of acidification suggests that the pH of LSW could drop 0.45 units with respect to pre-industrial levels by the time atmospheric CO2 concentrations double the present ones.

Vázquez-Rodríguez M., Pérez F. F., Velo A., Ríos A. F., & Mercier H., 2012. Observed trends of anthropogenic acidification in North Atlantic water masses. Biogeosciences Discussions 9(3): 3003-3030. Article.

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