Climate mitigation averts corrosive acidification in the upper ocean

The invasion of anthropogenic carbon into the global ocean poses an existential threat to calcifying marine organisms1–4. Observations indicate that conditions corrosive to aragonite shells, unprecedented in the surface ocean, are already occurring in mesoscale upwelling features of the North Pacific2,5,6 and Southern Ocean7, and modeling experiments indicate that large volumes of the global ocean8 including the polar ocean’s surface might become corrosive to aragonite by 20304,9–13. Such changes are expected to compress important marine habitats, but the pathways by which habitat compression manifests over global scales, and their sensitivity to mitigation, remain unexplored. Using a suite of large ensemble projections from an Earth system model14,15, we assess the effectiveness of climate mitigation for averting habitat loss at the ecologically-critical horizon of the base of the ocean’s euphotic zone. We find that without mitigation, 40-42% of this sensitive horizon experiences conditions corrosive to aragonite by 2100, with moderate mitigation this reduces to 16-19%, and with aggressive mitigation to 6-7%. Mitigation has a stronger effect on the eastern relative to western domains of the northern extratropical ocean with some of the greatest benefits in the ocean’s most productive Large Marine Ecosystems, including the California Current and Gulf of Alaska. This work reveals the significant impact that mitigation efforts compatible with the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C could have upon preserving marine habitats that are vulnerable to ocean acidification.

Schlunegger S., Rodgers K., Hales B., Dunne J., Ishii M., Yamaguchi R. & Slater R., in review. Climate mitigation averts corrosive acidification in the upper ocean. Nature Portfolio Journal. Article.

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