Trends and drivers in global surface ocean pH over the past three decades

We report global long-term trends in surface ocean pH using a new pH data set computed by combining fCO2 observations from the Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT) version 2 with surface alkalinity estimates based on temperature and salinity. Trends were determined over the periods 1981–2011 and 1991–2011 for a set of 17 biomes using a weighted linear least squares method. We observe significant decreases in surface ocean pH in ~70% of all biomes and a global mean rate of decrease of –0.0018 ± 0.0004 yr-1 for 1991–2011. We are not able to calculate a global trend for 1981–2011 because too few biomes have enough data for this. In two-thirds of the biomes, the rate of change is commensurate with the trends expected based on the assumption that the surface ocean pH change is only driven by the surface ocean carbon chemistry remaining in a transient equilibrium with the increase in atmospheric CO2. In the remaining biomes deviations from such equilibrium may reflect changes in the trend of surface ocean fCO2, most notably in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, or changes in the oceanic buffer (Revelle) factor. We conclude that well-planned and long-term sustained observational networks are key to reliably document the ongoing and future changes in ocean carbon chemistry due to anthropogenic forcing.

Lauvset S. K., Gruber N., Landschützer P., Olsen A. & Tjiputra J., 2014. Trends and drivers in global surface ocean pH over the past three decades. Biogeosciences Discussions 11:15549-15584. Article.

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