Arctic Species at Risk from Increasing Ocean Acidity from Rising Carbon Dioxide

First Posted: Dec 03, 2013 08:41 AM EST

As carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, our oceans are facing a major threat. Seawater absorbs this gas and become acidic, impacting marine species across the globe. Now, scientists have discovered that tiny crustaceans in the Arctic are likely to battle for survival if ocean acidity continues to rise.

As CO2 in our atmosphere continues to increase, seawater continues to absorb this gas. This, in turn, lowers the pH of the ocean waters. In fact, some areas of the Arctic Ocean area already experiencing the fastest rates of acidification on the planet and, combined with sea-ice loss and warming temperatures, the impacts of climate change are likely to hit Arctic marine life first.

One of these marine creatures happens to be the copepod, which is one of the most abundant marine animals on the planet. These tiny crustaceans are a vital food source for a wide variety of marine life and can even act as bio-indicators, providing an early warning system for the health of the environment. If copepods were to be affected, it's likely that other marine species that depend on these creatures as a food source would also be impacted.

In order to learn a little bit more about copepods, the researchers collected data as part of the Catlin Arctic Survey. In the end, they found that the natural range of temperature and acidity under the ice that copepods experience on a day-to-day basis correspond to their responses to the ocean acidification conditions predicted for 100 years' time.

"Our study found that some marine animals may not be able to survive the impact of ocean acidification, particularly the early-life stages," said Ceri Lewis, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This unique insight into how marine life will respond to future changes in the oceans has implications that reach far beyond the Arctic regions."

Since an estimated 30 percent of carbon dioxide released by humans dissolves into the oceans, it's likely that ocean acidity will continue to increase. This particular study reveals how these changes are likely to impact globally important species like copepods. More specifically, the findings also reveal that organisms with a limited habitat range are likely to suffer the most under changing climatic and oceanic conditions.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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