Physical and biogeochemical controls on the variability in surface pH and calcium carbonate saturation states in the Atlantic sectors of the Arctic and Southern Oceans

Eithne Tynan, Jennifer S. Clarke, Matthew P. Humphreys, Mariana Ribas-Ribas, Mario Esposito, Victoire M.C. Rérolle, Christan Schlosser, Sally E. Thorpe, Toby Tyrrell, Eric P. Achterberg

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Polar oceans are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification due to their low temperatures and reduced buffering capacity, and are expected to experience extensive low pH conditions and reduced carbonate mineral saturations states (Ω) in the near future. However, the impact of anthropogenic CO2 on pH and Ω will vary regionally between and across the Arctic and Southern Oceans. Here we investigate the carbonate chemistry in the Atlantic sector of two polar oceans, the Nordic Seas and Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean, and the Scotia and Weddell Seas in the Southern Ocean, to determine the physical and biogeochemical processes that control surface pH and Ω. High-resolution observations showed large gradients in surface pH (0.10–0.30) and aragonite saturation state (Ωar) (0.2–1.0) over small spatial scales, and these were particularly strong in sea-ice covered areas (up to 0.45 in pH and 2.0 in Ωar). In the Arctic, sea-ice melt facilitated bloom initiation in light-limited and iron replete (dFe>0.2 nM) regions, such as the Fram Strait, resulting in high pH (8.45) and Ωar (3.0) along the sea-ice edge. In contrast, accumulation of dissolved inorganic carbon derived from organic carbon mineralisation under the ice resulted in low pH (8.05) and Ωar (1.1) in areas where thick ice persisted. In the Southern Ocean, sea-ice retreat resulted in bloom formation only where terrestrial inputs supplied sufficient iron (dFe>0.2 nM), such as in the vicinity of the South Sandwich Islands where enhanced pH (8.3) and Ωar (2.3) were primarily due to biological production. In contrast, in the adjacent Weddell Sea, weak biological uptake of CO2 due to low iron concentrations (dFe<0.2 nM) resulted in low pH (8.1) and Ωar (1.6). The large spatial variability in both polar oceans highlights the need for spatially resolved surface data of carbonate chemistry variables but also nutrients (including iron) in order to accurately elucidate the large gradients experienced by marine organisms and to understand their response to increased CO2 in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-27
Number of pages21
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Early online date29 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • Carbonate system
  • Ocean acidification
  • Arctic Ocean
  • Southern Ocean
  • Biogeochemistry

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