Sea ice loss translates into major shifts in the carbonate environmental conditions in Arctic Shelf Sea

Healthy Arctic marine ecosystems are essential to the food security and sovereignty, culture and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic. At the same time, Arctic marine ecosystems are highly susceptible to impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. While increasing ocean and air temperatures and melting sea ice act as direct stressors on the ecosystem, they also indirectly enhance ocean acidification, accelerating the associated changes in the inorganic carbon system. Yet, much is to be learned about the current state and variability of the inorganic carbon system in remote places. Here, we present pH and pCO2 time-series (2016–2020) from the Chukchi Ecosystem Observatory. The subsurface observatory is located in the midst of a biological hotspot with high primary productivity and a rich benthic food web that support coastal Iñupiat, whales, ice seals, walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), and Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida). Our observations suggest that near-bottom waters (33 m depth, 13 m above the seafloor) are a high carbon dioxide and low pH and aragonite saturation state environment in summer and fall, when organic material from the highly productive summer remineralizes. During this time, the aragonite saturation state can be as low as 0.4, triggering free CaCO3 dissolution. During the sea ice covered winter period, pH was < 8 and aragonite remained undersaturated under the sea ice. There are only two short seasonal periods with relatively higher pH and Ωarag, which we term ocean acidification relaxation events. In spring, high primary production from sea ice algae and phytoplankton blooms and ikaite dissolution lead to spikes in pH (pH > 8) and aragonite oversaturation. In late fall, strong wind driven mixing events that bring CO2 depleted surface water to the shelf also lead to events with elevated pH and Ωarag. Given the recent observations of high rates of ocean acidification, and sudden and dramatic shift of the physical, biogeochemical, and ecosystem conditions in the Chukchi Sea, it is possible that the observed extreme conditions at the Chukchi Ecosystem Observatory are significantly deviating from the carbonate conditions to which many species are adapted and may have negative impacts on the ecosystem.

Hauri C., Irving B., Dupont S., Pages R., Hauser D. & Danielson S., 2023. Sea ice loss translates into major shifts in the carbonate environmental conditions in Arctic Shelf Sea. EGUsphere. Article.

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