Modeling the variability, trends and future changes in ocean acidification in the Humboldt Current System

The largest buffer against climate change is the oceanic sink of anthropogenic CO2. However, this important ecosystem service to humanity leads to the reduction of pH and the saturation state of the biologically relevant calcium carbonate minerals aragonite and calcite  (Ωarag and Ωcalc). This process, known as anthropogenic ocean acidification, is a major marine ecosystem stressor and has negative impacts that range from reduced calcification to changes in population dynamics of important fisheries. Some of the most productive regions of the world, the Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems (EBUS), are also among the most vulnerable to become undersaturated in the next decades due to the natural occurrence of low pH and Ω values at shallow depths and the projected further uptake of anthropogenic CO2. While extensive research on ocean acidification has been conducted in the California Current upwelling System, little is known about the dynamics of the marine carbonate chemistry in the much more productive Humboldt Current Upwelling System (HumCS), in the west coast of South America. To fill this gap, I used the high resolution Regional Ocean Modelling System (ROMS) and two different ecosystem models to study the progression of ocean acidification in the HumCS and the natural fluctuations superimposed to this anthropogenic perturbation. Results from a preindustrial simulation (year 1870) show that even then, pH and Ωarag values in the HumCS were respectively ⇠ 0.3 and 1 units lower than the preindustrial global average. The simulated evolution of ocean acidification to the end of the century showed that the continuous uptake of anthropogenic CO2 will push the nearshore off Peru to even lower values, from a present-day pH of 7.8 and Ωarag of 1.8 to year-round undersaturated conditions in year 2090 in at least 60 % of the top layer of the water column in the nearshore off Peru. Aragonite undersaturation in the following decades is already a committed change regardless of the amount of carbon emitted to the atmosphere in the future. However, a striking difference arises between following a “high CO2 emissions” scenario (RCP8.5, pCO2 values 840 μatm by year 2090) or a “low CO2 emissions” scenario (RCP2.6, pCO2 values of 428 μatm). In the former, water corrosive to calcite, a less soluble form of calcium carbonate than aragonite, will be found in the first 15 km off Peru and will potentially impact a larger range of calcifying organisms. On the other hand, this can be avoided the RCP2.6 scenario is followed, and strong CO2 mitigation measures are established and executed. In the high CO2 emissions scenario, an overall decrease of 0.9 ± 0.1 units in Ωarag from present day to the end of the century is projected in the nearshore off Peru, and a similar trend in the nearshore off Chile. On top of this long-term trend, natural climate variability off Peru can lead to strong year-to-year variations in the progression of ocean acidification. The largest contribution to Ωarag variability in the HumCS is on the interannual timescale, mainly forced by remotely forced tropical oscillations (e.g. El Ni˜no/Southern Oscillation) but also by local and regional phenomena (e.g., El Ni˜no costero). Analysis from a hindcast simulation for the period of 1979-2016 reveals that under present day conditions, the magnitude of such variability is comparable to the anthropogenic trend. Interannual changes in Ω are mainly driven by variations in the thermocline structure and wind patterns. Off Peru, the deepening of the thermocline associated with warm, El Ni˜no-like events, is translated into an increase in Ωarag in the surface layer of 0.4 units, while a shallower thermocline driven by cold interannual events (e.g., La Ni˜na) leads to a decrease in Ωarag values of 0.3 units. These natural interannual variations account for ⇠ 30 to and 40 % of the magnitude of the expected anthropogenic change, potentially bringing forward of delaying by some decades the pervasive appearance of aragonite undersaturated waters in the surface layer of the most productive EBUS of the Pacific: the Humboldt Current.

Franco Novela A. C., 2018. Modeling the variability, trends and future changes in ocean acidification in the Humboldt Current System. PhD thesis, ETH Zurich University. 152 p. Thesis.

 

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