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Climate Change's 'Evil Twin': Ocean Acidification

New comprehensive study outlines rapidly acidifying Arctic Ocean caused by CO2 emissions

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The rapidly acidifying Arctic Ocean caused by absorbing the world's CO2 emissions have pushed us beyond "critical thresholds," with widespread impacts to be felt for "tens of thousands of years" even if we stopped emissions, say scientists.

The three-year assessment from a team of international scientists is being released at the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme's (AMAP) International Conference on Arctic Ocean Acidification starting Monday in Bergen, Norway, and details how the phenomenon dubbed "climate change's evil twin" is causing a global problem.

"The ocean has been performing a huge climate service over the last 200 years by having a great capacity to absorb CO2. It has taken up 50 percent of the CO2 that we have emitted and is currently still taking up 25 percent of the CO2 that we are producing", stated Richard Bellerby, Research Scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research.
 
Norway's Center for International Climate and Environmental Research explains that the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent over the last 200 years, with CO2 being more readily absorbed by colder waters.
 
"Even if we stop emissions now, acidification will last tens of thousands of years."
- Richard Bellerby, NIWR
"Arctic ocean acidification is happening at a faster rate than found in other global regions. This is because climate change such as warming and freshening of the oceans is acting in tandem with the enormous oceanic uptake of C02," said Bellerby.
 

“Continued rapid change is a certainty,” Bellerby told BBC News.

“We have already passed critical thresholds," warned Bellerby. "Even if we stop emissions now, acidification will last tens of thousands of years. It is a very big experiment.”

Sam Dupont, Researcher at the University of Gothenburg, says that "something really unique is happening. This is the first time that we as humans are changing the whole planet; we are actually acidifying the whole ocean today."

"The most optimistic prediction," Dupont says, "tells us that within few decades, by the end of this century, the ocean will be two times more acidic. And we also know that it might be even faster in the Arctic."

The impacts of this acidification will be widespread, as Dupont explains.

"One example of potential species extinction is the brittle star. If you expose the eggs of this species to the conditions that we can expect within decades in term of ocean acidification, they all die within days. And you may not care if this species disappears but if this one disappears other will be impacted too, the ones that are feeding on them. Scientists think that similar kinds of effects can happen in the Arctic, and that it can even maybe be worse in the Arctic."
 

See more in the Arctic Ocean Acidification video from AMAP:

Arctic Ocean Acidification (2013) - Full (12 minute) version from AMAP on Vimeo.

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