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Arctic Ocean 'Rapidly Accumulating Carbon Dioxide': Report

May 6, 2013

Christian Aslund/AFP/Getty Images

A handout picture provided by Greenpeace in April 2013 at the North Pole on the Arctic ocean shows the 'Save The Arctic' movement taking part in the world's largest participatory art project - the acclaimed 'Inside Out' project - by creating a unique art piece at the North Pole.

The Arctic Ocean is rapidly becoming more acidic thanks to changes in the global carbon cycle and carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by humans, according to a report released in early May.

Scientists with the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme in Oslo, Norway, monitor changes in the chemistry of the Arctic Ocean and said that over the past 200 years, the average acidity of ocean waters around the world has increased by about 30 percent.

The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to increasing carbon dioxide emissions, as CO2 is absorbed into cold water more easily. Fresh water also is pouring into the Arctic in increasing amounts, notes Oslo's Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, from rivers and melting ice, reducing its ability to neutralize acidification.

Even if all carbon dioxide emissions stopped immediately, it would take tens of thousands of years for the Arctic to return to the acidification levels that prevailed before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution some 250 years ago, the report's authors told BBC News.

(MORE: Arctic Going Green From Warming)

“We have already passed critical thresholds. Even if we stop emissions now, acidification will last tens of thousands of years. It is a very big experiment,” Richard Bellerby, the report's chairman, said in an interview with BBC News.

Ocean acidification is causing fundamental changes in the chemistry of the world's oceans, says NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in this explainer

The oceans absorb about a quarter of the CO2 humans release into the atmosphere every year; as the level of CO2 in the atmosphere rises, so do the levels in the ocean.

"Future predictions indicate that the oceans will continue to absorb carbon dioxide and become even more acidic," scientists at PMEL explain. "Estimates of future carbon dioxide levels, based on business as usual emission scenarios, indicate that by the end of this century the surface waters of the ocean could be nearly 150 percent more acidic, resulting in a pH that the oceans haven’t experienced for more than 20 million years."

The change in the pH levels of the Arctic could have vast, unforeseeable impacts on marine life there. Species like the brittle star may decline or disappear entirely, Sam Dupont, a researcher with the University of Gothenberg told Cicero in an interview.

"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," he said. 

"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," Dupont added. "Scientists think that similar kinds of effects can happen in the Arctic, and that it can even maybe be worse in the Arctic."

(MORE: Say Goodbye to Arctic Summer Ice)

Ultimately, the change in the Arctic will eventually impact people. Commercial fisheries that depend on the ocean there will catch less fish, as will the region's indigenous people, whose communities depend on what the ocean provides.

"We will also have impacts through tourism and recreational activities," Professor Rashid Sumaila of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit of the University of Columbia told Cicero in an interview. "People are coming from around the world to see creatures of the ocean in the Arctic. And so those will also be impacted." 

"If there are no animals to see, nobody will come," he added "This means we will have various effects on the way of life of the Arctic people."

MORE: Arctic Tourism Rebound Sparks Worries

Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns

Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns

Associated Press

An inflatable boat carries tourists past an iceberg along the Antarctic Peninsula. In a remote, frozen, almost pristine land where the only human residents are involved in research, tourism comes with risks, for both the continent and the tourists. (AP Photo/Aurora Expeditions, Andrew Halsall)

  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns
  • Antarctica Tourism Rebound Sparks Concerns

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