Ocean acidification is spreading rapidly in the western Arctic Ocean in both area and depth, potentially affecting shellfish, other marine species in the food web, and communities that depend on these resources, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change by NOAA, Chinese marine scientists and other partners.
The new research shows that between the 1990s and 2010, acidified waters expanded northward approximately 300 nautical miles from the Chukchi Sea slope off the coast of northwestern Alaska to just below the North Pole. Also, the depth of acidified waters increased from approximately 325 feet below the surface to more than 800 feet.
Ocean acidification is occurring because the ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When seawater absorbs carbon dioxide, its acidity is increased, which decreases the building blocks used by shellfish to grow their shells.
“Acidification has implications for marine life, particularly clams, mussels and tiny sea snails that may have difficulty building or maintaining their shells in increasingly acidified waters,” said Richard Feely, NOAA senior scientist and a co-author of the research.