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New report shows impacts of climate change and extreme weather in Latin America and Caribbean (text & video)

LAC State of the Climate 2020

Climate change and extreme weather are threatening human health and safety, food, water and energy security and the environment in Latin America and the Caribbean. The impacts span the entire region, including Andean peaks, mighty river basins and low-lying islands, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It flags concerns about fires and the loss of forests which are a vital carbon sink.

The “State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2020” provides a snapshot of the effects of increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, storms and retreating glaciers. It includes transboundary analyses, such as of the drought of the South American Pantanal and the intense hurricane season in Central America-Caribbean. It provides a detailed regional breakdown of worsening global climate change indicators.

The report and an accompanying story map show how marine life, coastal ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them, particularly in Small Island Developing States, are facing increasing threats from ocean acidification and heat and rising sea levels.

The report was released at a high-level conference on 17 August, “Working together for weather, climate and water resilience in Latin America and the Caribbean” under the auspices of WMO, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC), and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

It follows the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science basis, which said that temperatures in the region have increased more than the global average and are likely to continue to do so. It also projected changing precipitation patterns, more sea level rise, coastal flooding and marine heatwaves.

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AR6 Climate change 2021: the physical science basis

The Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, bringing together the latest advances in climate science, and combining multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations.

Disclaimer: The Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is the approved version from the 14th session of Working Group I and 54th Session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and remains subject to final copy-editing and layout.

The Technical Summary (TS), the full Report Chapters, the Annexes and the Supplementary Materials are the Final Government Distribution versions, and remain subject to revisions following the SPM approval, corrigenda, copy-editing, and layout.

Full report

CHANGING by Alisa Singer
Changing by the artist Alisa Singer
“As we witness our planet transforming around us we watch, listen, measure … respond.”

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Global warming ‘unequivocally’ human driven, at unprecedented rate: IPCC

A wildfire burns in a national park in Oregon, USA.
A wildfire burns in a national park in Oregon, USA. Unsplash/Marcus Kauffman

Climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible, at least during the present time frame, according to the latest much-anticipated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released on Monday.

Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Scientists are also observing changes across the whole of Earth’s climate system; in the atmosphere, in the oceans, ice floes, and on land.

Many of these changes are unprecedented, and some of the shifts are in motion now, while some – such as continued sea level rise – are already ‘irreversible’ for centuries to millennia, aheadthe report warns.

But there is still time to limit climate change, IPCC experts say. Strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases, could quickly make air quality better, and in 20 to 30 years global temperatures could stabilize.

‘Code red for humanity’

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the Working Group’s report was nothing less than “a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable”.

He noted that the internationally-agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels of global heating was “perilously close. We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near term. The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold, is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and persuing the most ambitious path.

“We must act decisively now, to keep 1.5 alive.”

The UN chief in a detailed reaction to the report, said that solutions were clear. “Inclusive and green economies, prosperity, cleaner air and better health are possible for all, if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage”, he said.

He added that ahead of the crucial COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November, all nations – especiall the advanced G20 economies – needed to join the net zero emissions coaltion, and reinforce their promises on slowing down and reversing global heating, “with credible, concrete, and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)” that lay out detailed steps.

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Key climate change effects on the coastal and marine environment around the Pacific UK Overseas Territories

• Climate-driven changes in the central south Pacific Ocean will cause widespread warming of ocean waters, altered circulation, increased stratification of the water column and limited nutrient supply to the surface, decreasing dissolved oxygen, ocean acidification and rising sea levels. These changes will impact marine and terrestrial ecosystems and the communities they support.

• Ultimately, important sectors, such as fisheries and tourism, will be affected by these changes, as will food and water security and essential services, such as energy, transport of goods and coastal protection.

• Coral reefs are unlikely to experience significant heat stress, but should they be impacted by changes in sea temperature, including cold water intrusion, their recovery appears challenging due to the islands’ isolation and therefore the low supply of healthy coral larvae from other reef systems. By the end of the century, even under lowemissions scenarios, acidification conditions in the seawater around the Pitcairn Islands are likely to become marginal for coral calcification.

• Increasing Sea Surface Temperature (SST), ocean acidification and related changes to oxygen concentrations and stratification are expected to affect the health of coral reefs that support coastal fisheries in the Pitcairn Islands, and reduce productivity. Pelagic tuna fisheries are also expected to be affected by climate change with a slight increase in biomass for all tuna species projected for this part of the central south Pacific Ocean.

• Rising sea levels, storm surges, severe storm events and heavy rains will impact infrastructure networks on Pitcairn Island and the safe transport of goods via shipping to the island. Integrating climate change considerations into existing and new infrastructure is essential for building resilience to future climate change impacts.

• Downscaled projections for the Pitcairn Islands (at a relevant scale) will be particularly important for SST, since it is postulated that coral reefs and marine species may be buffered from regional increasing SST due to circulation patterns. This dynamic needs to be examined further to determine if it is in fact occurring or likely to occur, and therefore improve understanding on the potential impacts of increasing SST on marine ecosystems.

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Indicator assessment: ocean acidification

Currently, the ocean takes up about one quarter of global CO2 emissions from human activities. The uptake of CO2 in the sea causes ocean acidification, as the pH of sea water declines.
Ocean surface pH declined from 8.2 to below 8.1 over the industrial era as a result of an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. This decline corresponds to an increase in oceanic acidity of about 30 %.

European Environment Agency, 25 June 2021. Resource.

Resource type: website

Resource format: webpage

JPI Strategy

Developed with JPI Oceans members and co-created with stakeholders, the Strategy Framework launched online on Monday 29 March, provides a coherent setting for the coming years for efficient and impactful pan-European research and innovation, in support of healthy and productive seas and ocean.

Resource type: website

Resource format: webpage

JPI Oceans, 1 March 2021. Resource.

Summary for policymakers

Ocean acidification research is growing rapidly. The Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World (Monterey, California, September 2012) convened 540 experts from 37 countries to discuss the results of research into ocean acidification, its impacts on ecosystems, socio-economic consequences and implications for policy. More than twice as many scientists participated in the Monterey symposium compared to the previous symposium four years earlier. Here we present a summary of the state of knowledge on ocean acidification based on the latest research presented at the symposium and beyond.

Resource type: website

Resource format: document/pdf

IGBP, IOC, SCOR, 4 July 1905. Resource.

New report highlights why the ocean matters in climate negotiations & suggests positive actions nations can take as the countdown to COP26 is underway

Leading UK experts shine a spotlight on the critical role the ocean plays in greatly slowing the rate of climate change but also the subsequent impacts of this and why support from nations for better inclusion of the ocean at the United Nations climate negotiations, such as COP26 in Glasgow this November, is so important.

The briefing, led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory, summarises the latest research and knowledge on the importance of the ocean, as well as offering a range of opportunities to nations in order to ensure that the ocean can be developed sustainably for the benefits it provides to people around the world.

Developed by a team of experts from leading UK marine and environmental science universities and centres and published in association with the COP26 Universities Network, the briefing also makes suggestions on how the ocean can be better incorporated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.

The key messages are:

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Measuring coastal acidification using in situ sensors in the National Estuary Program

Estuaries and coastal areas are highly vulnerable to the impacts of acidification on shellfish, coral reefs, fisheries, and the commercial and recreational industries that they support. Yet, little is known about the extent of this vulnerability and the estuary-specific drivers that contribute to acidification, such as nutrient enrichment from stormwater, agriculture and wastewater discharges, upwelling of CO2 -rich seawater, elevated atmospheric CO2 from urban and agricultural activities, benthic and marsh-driven processes, and alkalinity and carbon content of freshwater flows. Comprehensive, high resolution monitoring data are needed at varying spatial and temporal scales to provide actionable information tailored to each estuary. Because carbonate chemistry in the coastal environment can be affected by nutrient dynamics, understanding how nutrient inputs exacerbate acidification impacts is essential for the formulation of estuary-specific actions.

EPA supports coastal acidification monitoring and research in various ways (Table 1). The purpose of this report is to share EPA’s approach to long-term coastal acidification monitoring in which it initiated the use of autonomous monitoring sensors for dissolved carbon dioxide (pCO2) and pH deployed in situ in estuaries across the country through EPA’s National Estuary Programs (NEP) and their partners. This approach captures the high-resolution data that are needed to understand variability associated with acidification and ultimately to inform trends and mitigation and adaptation strategies for these vulnerable systems. This report details the plans and experiences of ten NEPs geographically distributed around the U.S. coast and their partners in conducting this monitoring over the last four years (2015–2019). The report illustrates the monitoring goals, deployment methods, data analysis, costs, preliminary results, and the role of partnerships in their successes. The preliminary results have already improved our understanding of baseline carbonate chemistry conditions in these estuaries, the factors affecting spatial and temporal variability, and the drivers responsible for changes in pCO2 and associated acidification. The sensors are successfully capturing seasonal variability and finer temporal trends that provide information on diel variability, physical processes (e.g., weather, tides), and biological activity which cannot be captured with discrete sampling alone. The preliminary data indicate that there are regional differences in the drivers of acidification, particularly the influence of upwelling events vs. land-based freshwater sources. Several of these NEPs have calculated aragonite saturation state, an indicator of conditions in which mollusk shells begin to dissolve and have identified certain vulnerable conditions for shellfish and other economically-important species in their estuaries.

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Plastic and toxic chemical induced ocean acidification will cause a plankton crisis that will devastate humanity over the next 25 Years, unless we act now to stop the pollution

Planktonic plants and animals at the base of the marine food chain make all life on Earth possible. Without them the atmosphere would be toxic from carbon dioxide, we would have no oxygen and there would be no whales, birds or fish in the oceans.

Over the last 70 years, more than 50% of all marine life has been lost from the world’s oceans, and it continues to decline at rate of 1% year on year. Atmospheric carbon dioxide causes ocean acidification, and a loss of marine plants and animals accelerates the process.

A small increase in acidity caused by carbon dioxide dissolves magnesium calcite and aragonite, forms of calcium carbonate upon which 50% of all marine life including plankton and coral reefs are composed. Over the next 25 years, the pH will continue to drop from pH8.04 to pH7.95, and an estimated 80% to 90% of all marine life will be lost from the oceans. Even if the world achieves net zero by 2045, atmospheric carbon dioxide will still exceed 500ppm and the oceans will still drop to pH 7.95.

Based on current climate change policy of carbon mitigation, we will not be able to stop the loss of most marine life, which includes fish and the food supply for 3 billion people. In addition, we lose the life support system for the planet. This decline has gone largely unnoticed because most of the plants and animals in the oceans are under 1 mm in size and they are not closely monitored. By way of an example: Prochlorococcus, a cyanobacteria responsible for making 20% of our oxygen, was only discovered in the 1985.

Ocean acidification and climate change cannot adequately describe the loss of marine life. 30% of the ocean have high nutrient (nitrate) concentrations but zero or only low plant growth. If it is not the lack of nutrients or trace nutrients, responsible for the loss of marine life, then this just leaves aquatic environmental pollution as the last plausible explanation. The impact of chemical and micro-plastic pollution on planktonic marine life has been almost completed ignored by the scientific community, and as such industry and governments have not been alerted to the impending threat to the oceans.

This is potentially a good news story, because the solution will be to eliminate pollution from plastic and toxic chemicals or develop green alternatives that do not harm to the environment or humans. We still need to reduce carbon from the burning of fossil fuels, but the priority over the next 25 years should be to protect the oceans, because all life on earth depends upon marine life in the world’s oceans.

Questions and answer on GOES Report.

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A sea of change: Europe’s future in the Atlantic realm

Foreword

However cold it may seem to some of us in a Scandinavian winter, northern Europe enjoys a relatively mild regional climate for our latitude, thanks to the massive amounts of heat brought up from the subtropics by circulation patterns in the North Atlantic Ocean. So it is no surprise that suggestions that this heat transport may weaken or ‘switch off’ attracts much media attention, with headlines that may refer to ‘tipping points’ or ‘collapse’ of the overturning circulation that brings warm surface waters all the way to the Arctic Circle. Studies of the ocean climate on long timescales have found these processes to have stopped or seriously reduced, generally following large freshwater discharges caused by rapid melting of glacial or multi-year ice in the Arctic. Were this to happen, there could be the paradox that global warming can lead to a colder climate for some of us!

With Greenland and Arctic ice melting at a rapid rate owing to the current rates of global warming, and the evidence from past climates, the future of the Atlantic conveyer has become an important topic for research programmes, and scientific papers are step-by-step improving our understanding of the underlying processes and current trends. The overturning circulation that includes the influx of waters from the subtropics to as far as the Arctic is reported to be weakening, but there is not yet a consensus on trends. At the same time, sea levels are rising and seawater acidification continues, placing additional stresses and uncertainties in safeguarding Europe’s seas and coasts and the resources and ecosystem services that they provide. Europe is also looking to the seas to provide new resources, particularly renewable energy but also a range of activities under the general label of the Blue Economy.

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Ocean Acidification Community of Practice: quarterly newsletter – June 2021

Our newest Quarterly Newsletter (June, 2021) has arrived and is full of exciting updates, including a call for collaborators on our Letter of Intent for the Climate Action and Awareness Fund grant proposals, snapshots from our blog, and our new resources (including a new Webinars page with our past webinar recordings)! 

OA CoP June 2021 Newsletter.pdf

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New edition of the “OA-ICC Highlights”, January-April 2021

The new edition of the “OA-ICC Highlights”, our newsletter, summarizes the project’s main activities and achievements over the period January-April 2021. This newsletter highlights a virtual OA conference with OA-Africa Network to celebrate the Day of Ocean Acidification Action, OA-ICC assesses global capacity building efforts and joined GOA-ON for the planning for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development program (2021-2030), a dedicate session on Monaco Ocean Week and the welcoming of a new staff. Previous editions can be viewed here.

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Integrated ocean carbon research: a summary of ocean carbon research, and vision of coordinated ocean carbon research and observations for the next decade

The Integrated Ocean Carbon Research (IOC-R) programme is a formal working group of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) that was formed in 2018 in response to the United Nations (UN) Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), “the Decade.” The IOC-R will contribute to the science elements of the overarching Implementation Plan for the Decade1. The Implementation Plan is a high-level framework to guide actions by which ocean science can more effectively deliver its contribution and co-development with other entities to achieve the societal outcomes outlined in the Decade plan and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the UN.

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Climate change and ocean acidification – a looming crisis for Europe’s cetaceans

Climate-related changes, including increased sea surface temperature (SST), decreasing ice cover, rising sea levels and changes in ocean circulation, salinity, rainfall patterns, storm frequency, wind speed, wave conditions and climate patterns are all affecting cetaceans (Learmonth et al., 2006; Silber et al., 2016). Additionally, an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) being absorbed by seawater is leading to ocean acidification, which – in turn – amplifies the adverse effects of global warming (Pace et al., 2015; IPCC, 2018).

Understanding the mechanisms through which climate change impacts any given species is a challenge, and scientists are increasingly focused on trying to predict consequences (Simmonds, 2016). The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has held a series of workshops about climate change and has highlighted the need to understand the relationship between cetacean distribution and measurable climatic indices such as SST (IWC, 2010).

The impacts of climate change on cetaceans can be direct, such as thermal stress, or indirect, such as changes in prey availability (Learmonth et al., 2006). Effects can lead to changes in distribution, abundance and migration patterns, the presence of competitors and/or predators, community structure, timing of breeding, reproductive success and survival. Other potential outcomes of climate change could be more dramatic, such as the exacerbation of epizootics (Simmonds, 2016). The incidence of harmful algal blooms may also increase as a result of climate change. The Scientific Committee of the IWC has recently looked at this topic and concluded that the toxins from the blooms have resulted in an increasing risk to cetacean health at the individual and population levels (IWC, 2018).

Human activities have caused approximately 1.0oC of global warming above pre-industrial levels (IPCC, 2018) and it is estimated that global warming will reach 1.5oC between 2030 and 2052. In the last 50 years the world’s oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system (IPCC, 2019). The rate of ocean warming has more than doubled since 1993 and marine heatwaves have become common and more intense.

See link for full report: Report_UNDER-PRESSURE_need-to-protect-whales-and-dolphins-in-European-waters_OC.pdf (oceancare.org)

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A critical analysis of the ocean effects of carbon dioxide removal via direct air and ocean capture – is it a safe and sustainable solution?

Executive Summary

Catalyzed by the 2015 Paris Agreement, there are numerous initiatives for policies and sciencebased solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to achieve net-zero emissions internationally. President Biden plans to achieve net-zero in the United States no later than 2050. Despite forward-moving initiatives, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently reported that two-thirds of the countries that have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have committed to levels that remain insufficient in meeting vital international climate targets [1]. The overarching goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be accomplished by transitioning to a more equitable and environmentally just energy system that reduces pollution while meeting global food, transportation, and energy needs. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is at the forefront of policy change, investments, and technology to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the ocean. We must respond quickly, yet carefully, to the considerable pressure to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere even as we transition away from burning fossil fuels and other anthropogenic CO2-emitting activities. There are a number of emerging technologies based on direct air capture (DAC) and direct ocean capture (DOC) which use machines to extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere or the ocean and move the CO2 underground to storage facilities or utilize the CO2 to enhance oil recovery from commercially-depleted wells. These technological interventions are in contrast to nature-based solutions. These include restoring mangroves and other coastal and marine ecosystems, regenerative agriculture, and reforestation to remove and store carbon dioxide in plants and soils. These nature-based strategies can offer multiple community benefits, biodiversity benefits, and long-term carbon storage, a global benefit.2 This report mainly focuses on the viability and consequences, including potential harm to the environment and livelihoods of the direct air capture and direct ocean capture approaches.

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Climate change impacts on corals in the UK overseas territories of BIOT and the Pitcairn Islands

BIOT

The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) consists of five atolls of low-lying islands, including the largest atoll in the world, Great Chagos Bank, and a number of submerged atolls and banks. Diego Garcia is the only inhabited island. The BIOT Marine Protected Area (MPA) was designatedin 2010. It covers the entire maritime zone and coastal waters, an approximate area of 640,000 km2. The marine environment is rich and diverse, attracting sea birds, sharks, cetaceans and sea turtles and with extensive seagrass and coral reef habitats. It includes the endangered Chagos brain coral (Ctenella chagius), an endemic massive coral unique to BIOT. BIOT reefs have suffered extensive bleaching and mortality, and they remain vulnerable to current and future climate change and other pressures, including:

Bleaching
The heavy mortality has been caused by recurrent marine heatwaves since the 1970s. Reefs have not yet recovered from the most severe bleaching in 2016 and 2017, with increasingly severe events expected. Deeper fore-reefs may act as refuges, but those colonies are likely to be more sensitive to temperature change. Limiting other pressures will not guarantee resilience to future bleaching.

Ocean acidification
There has been a low impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs so far, but when combined with future bleaching therisk of decalcification and erosion will increase. Under high emissions scenarios, BIOT is projected to become less suitable for corals by the end of the century.

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Global climate indicators: ocean heat content, acidification, deoxygenation and blue carbon

WMO has published annual State of the Global Climate reports since 1993. In 2020, it published a five-year climate report for 2015 to 2019 incorporating data and analyses from the State of the Global Climate across this period. The initial purpose of the annual report was to inform Members on climate trends, extreme events and impacts. In 2016, the purpose was expanded to include summaries on key climate indicators to inform delegates in Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The summaries cover the atmosphere, land, ocean and cryosphere, synthesizing the past year’s most recent data analysis. There are four ocean related climate indicators: ocean heat content, sea level, sea ice and ocean acidification.

This article highlights the heat content summary from the State of the Global Climate 2020, ocean acidification, deoxygenation and blue carbon, covered in the WMO State of the Global Climate 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Ocean Heat Content

Ocean heat content measurements back in the 1940s relied mostly on shipboard techniques, which constrained the availability of subsurface temperature observations at global scale and at depth (Abraham et al., 2013). Global-scale estimates of ocean heat content are thus often limited to the period from 1960 onwards, and to a vertical integration from the surface down to a depth of 700 metres (m). With the deployment of the Argo network of autonomous profiling floats, which reached target coverage in 2006, it is now possible to routinely measure ocean heat content changes down to a depth of 2000 m (Roemmich et al., 2019) (Figure 1).

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How to save the oceans and fight climate change

There is one good thing that has come out of Covid. With no tourists causing extra wastewater pollution, sunbathing or swimming off beaches, we are witness to the health of coral reefs and coastal marine ecosystems recovering all around the world. There are a number of reasons for this, and one of them is particularly surprising. We don’t immediately think of cosmetics or sunscreens being toxic to marine life, but the reality is remarkably different.

Many of our cosmetics contain an ingredient called oxybenzone. It is used in products to protect us from the damaging effects of UV light from the sun. Sunblock is probably the wrong name for this cosmetic ingredient, because oxybenzone does not block UV light, it just changes it to a longer, less energetic wavelength that is safer for human skin. But, in changing the wavelength free radicals are released that are really dangerous, especially to corals, algae and plankton, and to a lesser degree, people. The chemical itself is relatively non-toxic, but the way in which it reacts with sunlight, plastic particles and nature makes it just about the most toxic chemical on the planet.

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Science in brief: OMAI – assessing acidification in the Baltic

Monitoring and scientific basis

Anthropogenic CO2 emissions will – unless reduced – move the Baltic Sea towards a state where acidification leads to changes in species composition, potentially influencing ecosystem functioning. Model simulations indicate that acidification in the Baltic Sea generally follows the same trajectory as the open oceans, with a pH decline of 0.6 units by year 2200 in the worst-case scenario. The Baltic Sea is highly influenced by its catchment areas, which means that acidification trends are generally more complex than in the open ocean. Improved coverage of acidification monitoring is necessary to broaden the understanding of current trends, improve the capacity to predict future changes, and as an added value provide insight into productivity patterns and eutrophication trends. An indicator for acidification in the Baltic Sea is currently under development.

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