New study shows larger human-released CO2 increases in subsurface waters of the North Pacific Ocean than in the atmosphere

The modern ocean (blue dashed profiles) reflects the combination of natural, preindustrial conditions (black profiles) and human-induced changes (gray shading). (a) Dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC; µmol kg-1) has increased most near the surface where the ocean absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere. This has caused measurable and distinct changes in (b) pH and (c) pCO2 (µatm). Click on image to enlarge.

The ocean plays a key role in mitigating climate change by absorbing about 25 percent of the carbon dioxide gas (CO2) released into the atmosphere each year by human activities. However, this comes at a cost to ocean health because the uptake of this human-released carbon causes changes in ocean chemistry, called ocean acidification (OA), that can be detrimental to marine ecosystems. 

A University of California – Santa Cruz (UCSC) and NOAA led research team set out to understand how OA metrics, such as pH and the partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2), have changed below the surface waters of the open North Pacific Ocean and coastal California Current System since industrialization (~1750). The California Current Large Marine Ecosystem along the US West Coast is a highly productive coastal ecosystem fueled by seasonal upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water that supports important fisheries, tourism, and cultural heritage. 

This new research, led by Mar Arroyo, graduate student at UCSC, used observational data from research cruises as part of the GO-SHIP and West Coast Ocean Acidification surveys as well as output from a regional ocean model. The findings were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters

Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, 25 August 2022. Press release.

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