Regional variability of acidification in the Arctic: a sea of contrasts
Abstract. The Arctic Ocean is a region that is particularly vulnerable to the impact of ocean acidification driven by rising atmospheric CO2, with potentially negative consequences for calcifying organisms such as coccolithophorids and foraminiferans. In this study, we use an ocean-only general circulation model, with embedded biogeochemistry and a comprehensive description of the ocean carbon cycle, to study the response of pH and saturation states of calcite and aragonite to rising atmospheric pCO2 and changing climate in the Arctic Ocean. Particular attention is paid to the strong regional variability within the Arctic, and, for comparison, simulation results are contrasted with those for the global ocean. Simulations were run to year 2099 using the RCP8.5 (an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) scenario with the highest concentrations of atmospheric CO2). The separate impacts of the direct increase in atmospheric CO2 and indirect effects via impact of climate change (changing temperature, stratification, primary production and freshwater fluxes) were examined by undertaking two simulations, one with the full system and the other in which atmospheric CO2 was prevented from increasing beyond its preindustrial level (year 1860). Results indicate that the impact of climate change, and spatial heterogeneity thereof, plays a strong role in the declines in pH and carbonate saturation (Ω) seen in the Arctic. The central Arctic, Canadian Arctic Archipelago and Baffin Bay show greatest rates of acidification and Ω decline as a result of melting sea ice. In contrast, areas affected by Atlantic inflow including the Greenland Sea and outer shelves of the Barents, Kara and Laptev seas, had minimal decreases in pH and Ω because diminishing ice cover led to greater vertical mixing and primary production. As a consequence, the projected onset of undersaturation in respect to aragonite is highly variable regionally within the Arctic, occurring during the decade of 2000–2010 in the Siberian shelves and Canadian Arctic Archipelago, but as late as the 2080s in the Barents and Norwegian seas. We conclude that, for future projections of acidification and carbonate saturation state in the Arctic, regional variability is significant and needs to be adequately resolved, with particular emphasis on reliable projections of the rates of retreat of the sea ice, which are a major source of uncertainty.