NASA/Kathryn Hansen
The Arctic Ocean is acidifying fast thanks to human-generated CO2 emissions, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program says.

Climate Change: Arctic Ocean Is Acidifying Fast, Study Shows

May 15, 2013

The Arctic Ocean is heating up, its ice and permafrost are melting, and now … its ocean is acidifying. 

That’s the key finding among 10 conclusions of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, which reported results at the May 6–8 Arctic Ocean Acidification International Conference in Norway and presented them at the Arctic Council's ministerial meeting in Sweden on May 15.

Moreover, the same carbon dioxide that is infiltrating our atmosphere to a high not seen since the melting of the ice age is responsible, and it all stems from human activity, the researchers said.

Ocean acidification has been documented all across the globe. It is eroding coral reefs, harming marine life and potentially compromising the economy of polar peoples.

But Arctic waters are especially susceptible, said Rashid Sumaila, a scientist at the University of British Columbia and one of 60 researchers who participated in the study. The changes could especially affect aboriginals who live above the Arctic Circle, he said.

“Aboriginal people actually depend a lot on the living sources in the Arctic,” Sumaila told CBC News. “They are very connected to the system, and they will be the first ones to be hit by this.”

The monitoring program found that the average acidity of ocean surface waters worldwide has increased by a good 30 percent over the past 200 years. In addition the Arctic Ocean is less able to neutralize the increased acidity because it collects more fresh water, thanks to rivers and melting glacial ice. In addition, the water is cold, which increases its absorption of carbon dioxide, the research team said. 

Although the acidification is not uniform, it has been noted at different levels all across the Arctic Ocean, the researchers said, especially in the central region and the surrounding seas, and mostly in surface waters.

“Because Arctic marine food webs are relatively simple, Arctic marine ecosystems are vulnerable to change when key species are affected by external factors,” the monitoring program said in a statement. “Arctic marine ecosystems are highly likely to undergo significant change due to ocean acidification.”

As a result, "Marine mammals, important to the culture, diets and livelihoods of Arctic Indigenous Peoples and other Arctic residents could also be indirectly affected through changing food availability," the research team said.  

The monitoring program presented its conclusions at the May 15 meeting of the Arctic Council, whose member nations contribute 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, Sumaila told CBC News.