Acidic Arctic

According to the latest science, Arctic waters contain more acid than the system can take. Photo: OceanConsevrancy.org For Arctic surfers, and other creatures of Planet Earth, scary news from the UK’s Observer newspaper:

“Carbon-dioxide emissions are turning the waters of the Arctic Ocean into acid at an unprecedented rate, scientists have discovered. Research carried out in the archipelago of Svalbard has shown in many regions around the north pole seawater is likely to reach corrosive levels within 10 years. The water will then start to dissolve the shells of mussels and other shellfish and cause major disruption to the food chain. By the end of the century, the entire Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic.

“This is extremely worrying,” Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso, of France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, told an international oceanography conference last week. “We knew that the seas were getting more acidic and this would disrupt the ability of shellfish – like mussels – to grow their shells. But now we realise the situation is much worse. The water will become so acidic it will actually dissolve the shells of living shellfish.”

Just as an acid descaler breaks apart limescale inside a kettle, so the shells that protect molluscs and other creatures will be dissolved. “This will affect the whole food chain, including the North Atlantic salmon, which feeds on molluscs,” said Gattuso, speaking at a European commission conference, Oceans of Tomorrow, in Barcelona last week. The oceanographer told delegates that the problem of ocean acidification was worse in high latitudes, in the Arctic and around Antarctica, than it was nearer the equator.

“More carbon dioxide can dissolve in cold water than warm,” he said. “Hence the problem of acidification is worse in the Arctic than in the tropics, though we have only recently got round to studying the problem in detail.”

About a quarter of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by factories, power stations and cars now ends up being absorbed by the oceans. That represents more than six million tonnes of carbon a day.

This carbon dioxide dissolves and is turned into carbonic acid, causing the oceans to become more acidic. “We knew the Arctic would be particularly badly affected when we started our studies but I did not anticipate the extent of the problem,” said Gattuso.

Read the complete story here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/04/arctic-seas-turn-to-acid
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