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Arctic Ocean: Why Is It Rapidly Becoming More Acidic?

By Nina Sen , May 06, 2013 03:19 PM EDT
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The Arctic Ocean is rapidly becoming more acidic due to climate change, according to a new report.

Scientists with the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) announced the ocean is at risk at an environmental conference in Bergen, Norway.

Scientists find that the acidity levels of the surface ocean waters have now risen by about 30 percent worldwide, over what they were at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Levels of acidity are now at their highest in at least 55 million years.

"Continued rapid change is a certainty. 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," AMAP study author Richard Bellerby told the BBC.

The Arctic Ocean is more vulnerable than other oceans because its cold waters absorb more carbon dioxide. Ocean acidification occurs because some of the carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels dissolves in the ocean. There, carbon dioxide reacts with water to produce an acid, called carbonic acid, which causes the oceans to become more acidic.

Scientists say it may take tens of thousands of years for the oceans to return to the acidity levels they had before the industrial era began two centuries ago.

The rising acidity level could hurt marine life and threaten the commercial fishing industry in the area.

"When marine ecosystems are affected, this will also have implications for humans. Ocean acidification in the Arctic might affect the commercial fishery is important to the economies of the North — and it can affect marine resources that are important for indigenous peoples in the Arctic. The quantity, quality, and predictability of commercially important Arctic fish stocks may be affected by ocean acidification, but the magnitude and direction of change are uncertain," the report says.

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