The Arctic is undergoing dramatic changes which cover the entire range of natural processes, from extreme increases in the temperatures of air, soil, and water, to changes in the cryosphere, the biodiversity of Arctic waters, and land vegetation. Small changes in the largest marine carbon pool, the dissolved inorganic carbon pool, can have a profound impact on the carbon dioxide (CO2) flux between the ocean and the atmosphere, and the feedback of this flux to climate. Knowledge of relevant processes in the Arctic seas improves the evaluation and projection of carbon cycle dynamics under current conditions of rapid climate change.
Investigation of the CO2 system in the outer shelf and continental slope waters of the Eurasian Arctic seas (the Barents, Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian seas) during 2006, 2007, and 2009 revealed a general trend in the surface water partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) distribution, which manifested as an increase in pCO2 values eastward. The existence of this trend was defined by different oceanographic and biogeochemical regimes in the western and eastern parts of the study area; the trend is likely increasing due to a combination of factors determined by contemporary change in the Arctic climate, each change in turn evoking a series of synergistic effects. A high-resolution in situ investigation of the carbonate system parameters of the four Arctic seas was carried out in the warm season of 2007; this year was characterized by the next-to-lowest historic sea-ice extent in the Arctic Ocean, on satellite record, to that date. The study showed the different responses of the seawater carbonate system to the environment changes in the western vs. the eastern Eurasian Arctic seas. The large, open, highly productive water area in the northern Barents Sea enhances atmospheric CO2 uptake. In contrast, the uptake of CO2 was strongly weakened in the outer shelf and slope waters of the East Siberian Arctic seas under the 2007 environmental conditions. The surface seawater appears in equilibrium or slightly supersaturated by CO2 relative to atmosphere because of the increasing influence of river runoff and its input of terrestrial organic matter that mineralizes, in combination with the high surface water temperature during sea-ice-free conditions.
This investigation shows the importance of processes that vary on small scales, both in time and space, for estimating the air–sea exchange of CO2. It stresses the need for high-resolution coverage of ocean observations as well as time series. Furthermore, time series must include multi-year studies in the dynamic regions of the Arctic Ocean during these times of environmental change.