Sensitivity of ocean acidification and oxygen to the uncertainty in climate change

Due to increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations and associated climate change, the global ocean is undergoing substantial physical and biogeochemical changes. Among these, changes in ocean oxygen and carbonate chemistry have great implication for marine biota. There is considerable uncertainty in the projections of future climate change, and it is unclear how the uncertainty in climate change would also affect the projection of oxygen and carbonate chemistry. To investigate this issue, we use an Earth system model of intermediate complexity to perform a set of simulations, including that which involves no radiative effect of atmospheric CO2 and those which involve CO2-induced climate change with climate sensitivity varying from 0.5 °C to 4.5 °C. Atmospheric CO2 concentration is prescribed to follow RCP 8.5 pathway and its extensions. Climate change affects carbonate chemistry and oxygen mainly through its impact on ocean temperature, ocean ventilation, and concentration of dissolved inorganic carbon and alkalinity. It is found that climate change mitigates the decrease of carbonate ions at the ocean surface but has negligible effect on surface ocean pH. Averaged over the whole ocean, climate change acts to decrease oxygen concentration but mitigates the CO2-induced reduction of carbonate ion and pH. In our simulations, by year 2500, every degree increase of climate sensitivity warms the ocean by 0.8 °C and reduces ocean-mean dissolved oxygen concentration by 5.0%. Meanwhile, every degree increase of climate sensitivity buffers CO2-induced reduction in ocean-mean carbonate ion concentration and pH by 3.4% and 0.02 units, respectively. Our study demonstrates different sensitivities of ocean temperature, carbonate chemistry, and oxygen, in terms of both the sign and magnitude to the amount of climate change, which have great implications for understanding the response of ocean biota to climate change.

Cao L., Wang S., Zheng M. & Zhang H., 2014. Sensitivity of ocean acidification and oxygen to the uncertainty in climate change. Environmental Research Letters 9(6):064005. Article.

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