Arctic is Dying: Climate Change Triggers Rapid Acidification in Arctic Waters

Global warming has caused several acidification events in the world’s oceans. The oceanic waters have been becoming more acidic and killing marine life. A new study has discovered that acidification in the western Arctic Ocean is happening at a rate three to four times higher than in other oceans. The Arctic Ocean’s acidification rate is linked to the pace of climate change-triggered sea-ice loss.

The Arctic Ocean is losing sea ice at an alarming rate, which has exposed the waters to easily absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and consequently, causing acidification. According to scientists, if sea ice persists to thaw at the current pace, the hurried acidification of the ocean will increase in the coming years to such harmful levels that until will be no sea ice left.

Ocean acidification is a simple and harmful process. When carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, it turns into carbonic acid, which splits into hydrogen and bicarbonate ions. This addition of hydrogen ions decreases the ocean water’s pH level, causing it to be more acidic in nature. Most living organisms are sensitive to acidic levels and it harms countless species.

On the other hand, the increase in bicarbonate ions causes a reduction in carbonate levels in the water, which impacts several marine species. For instance, coral with exoskeletons made of carbonate combines with calcium gets severely affected.

Climate Change Intensifies Arctic Acidification Disproportionately-1

Image: University of Delaware

Led by scientists Wei-Jun Cai—the Chair of Earth, Ocean, and Environment Studies at the University of Delaware—and Liqi Chen, a professor at China’s Third Institute of Oceanography, the study focuses on acidification’s impact on the Arctic’s ecosystem using the process rates measured between 1994 and 2020.

Cai told Vice;

Ocean acidification is really more than just how that affects the carbonate-building organisms. There are a bunch of chemical processes in the ecosystem that will all be affected. Our study will bring some attention [to the fact] that people need to really look at Arctic acidification as a consequence on the biological system.

The repercussions of the rapid acidification of the Arctic Ocean will reverberate globally as it streams into both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. Its inexplicably high acidification is also magnifying the impact of carbon dioxide on all of the oceans.

The authors of the study explained that the carbon dioxide under sea ice is lower than the amount present in the air. However, when the ice melts completely, the quantity of carbon dioxide in the surface waters almost equals the amount in the atmosphere. The freshwater from ice that melts into the seawater also lessens its alkalinity, which is the capacity for water to repel acidification.

Cai further added;

The ultimate solution would be to remove fossil fuels from the atmosphere, to reduce the emissions, and also try to remove CO2 activity from the atmosphere. The rate of warming in the Arctic is twice the global average, so the melting is very dramatic and we see [that] the rate of acidification is very much regulated by the ice-melt rate. So reducing global warming, reducing CO2 emissions looks the way to go.

The only solution right now is to reduce our carbon emissions. But even that seems like a long shot.

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