Modulation of ocean acidification by decadal climate variability in the Gulf of Alaska

Uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the surface ocean is leading to global ocean acidification, but regional variations in ocean circulation and mixing can dampen or accelerate apparent acidification rates. Here we use a regional ocean model simulation for the years 1980 to 2013 and observational data to investigate how ocean fluctuations impact acidification rates in surface waters of the Gulf of Alaska. We find that large-scale atmospheric forcing influenced local winds and upwelling strength, which in turn affected ocean acidification rate. Specifically, variability in local wind stress curl depressed sea surface height in the subpolar gyre over decade-long intervals, which increased upwelling of nitrate- and dissolved inorganic carbon-rich waters and enhanced apparent ocean acidification rates. We define this sea surface height variability as the Northern Gulf of Alaska Oscillation and suggest that it can cause extreme acidification events that are detrimental to ecosystem health and fisheries.

Hauri C., Pagès R., McDonnell A. M. P., Stuecker M. F., Danielson S. L., Hedstrom K., Irving B., Schultz C. & Doney S. C., 2021. Modulation of ocean acidification by decadal climate variability in the Gulf of Alaska. Communications Earth & Environment 2: 191. doi: 10.1038/s43247-021-00254-z. Article.

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