Melting ice created the perfect storm for a rapidly acidifying Arctic Ocean

  • The Arctic Ocean has grown more acidic at a surprising rate in recent years, three times faster than the rest of the global ocean.
  • Melting sea ice has exposed the top level of the Arctic Ocean to air rich with carbon dioxide, creating a layer that sopped up carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Increased acidity may hamper the ability of marine organisms to build their shells, causing ripple effects through the Arctic food web.
Sun illuminates melting ice floes in the western Arctic Ocean. Scientists estimate that Arctic summer ice will disappear completely by 2050. (Courtesy of Zhangxian Ouyang)
Sun illuminates melting ice floes in the western Arctic Ocean. Scientists estimate that Arctic summer ice will disappear completely by 2050. (Courtesy of Zhangxian Ouyang)

Melting sea ice may evoke images of polar bears stranded on shrinking floes or dramatically collapsing ice shelves. But according to a study published recently in the journal Science, ice melt is triggering another ecological threat: a drastically acidified Arctic Ocean. This has diminished access to key chemical building blocks for organisms that call the Arctic home, potentially disrupting the entire food web in this region.

An international team led by scientists at the University of Delaware found that the Arctic Ocean grew 50% more acidic from 1996 to 2020, changing three times faster than the rest of the ocean. “I thought it would be a little bit higher,” said study co-author Wei-Jun Cai, a marine chemist at the University of Delaware. “But I didn’t know it would be that high.”

The Arctic is warming faster than any similar region on Earth, causing sea ice to retreat rapidly. Ocean water trapped under the ice is low in carbon dioxide, which dissolves readily in cold water. But as the icy shield melts, these frigid waters suck up carbon dioxide from the air, forming a carbon-rich layer that sits on top of the ocean.

Luis Melecio-Zambrano, Mongabay, 7 December 2022. Full article.


  • Reset

Subscribe

OA-ICC Highlights


%d bloggers like this: