Sensitivity of future ocean acidification to carbon climate feedbacks

Carbon-climate feedbacks have the potential to significantly impact the future climate by altering atmospheric CO2 concentrations (Zaehle et al., 2010). By modifying the future atmospheric CO2 concentrations, the carbon-climate feedbacks will also influence the future trajectory for ocean acidification. Here, we use the CO2 emissions scenarios from 4 Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) with an Earth System Model to project the future trajectories of ocean acidification with the inclusion of carbon-climate feedbacks. We show that simulated carbon-climate feedbacks can significantly impact the onset of under-saturated aragonite conditions in the Southern and Arctic Oceans, the suitable habitat for tropical coral and the deepwater saturation states. Under higher emission scenarios (RCP8.5 and RCP6.0), the carbon-climate feedbacks advance the onset of under-saturation conditions and the reduction in suitable coral reef habitat by a decade or more. The impact of the carbon-climate feedback is most significant for the medium (RCP4.5) and low emission (RCP2.6) scenarios. For RCP4.5 scenario by 2100, the carbon-climate feedbacks nearly double the area of surface water under-saturated respect to aragonite and reduce by 50 % the surface water suitable for coral reefs. For RCP2.6 scenario by 2100, the carbon-climate feedbacks reduce the area suitable for coral reefs by 40 % and increase the area of under-saturated surface water by 20 %. The high sensitivity of the impact of ocean acidification to the carbon-climate feedbacks in the low to medium emissions scenarios is important because our recent commitments to reduce CO2 emissions are trying to move us on to such an emissions scenario. The study highlights the need to better characterise the carbon-climate feedbacks to ensure we do not excessively stress the oceans by under-estimating the future impact of ocean acidification.

Matear R. J. & Lenton A., 2017. Sensitivity of future ocean acidification to carbon climate feedbacks. Biogeosciences Discussions 1-18. Article.

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