National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

Nonuniform ocean acidification and attenuation of the ocean carbon sink

Fassbender, A.J., C.L. Sabine, and H.I. Palevsky

Geophys. Res. Lett., 44(16), 8404–8413, doi: 10.1002/2017GL074389 (2017)

Surface ocean carbon chemistry is changing rapidly. Partial pressures of carbon dioxide gas (pCO2) are rising, pH levels are declining, and the ocean's buffer capacity is eroding. Regional differences in short-term pH trends primarily have been attributed to physical and biological processes; however, heterogeneous seawater carbonate chemistry may also be playing an important role. Here we use Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas Version 4 data to develop 12 month gridded climatologies of carbonate system variables and explore the coherent spatial patterns of ocean acidification and attenuation in the ocean carbon sink caused by rising atmospheric pCO2. High-latitude regions exhibit the highest pH and buffer capacity sensitivities to pCO2 increases, while the equatorial Pacific is uniquely insensitive due to a newly defined aqueous CO2 concentration effect. Importantly, dissimilar regional pH trends do not necessarily equate to dissimilar acidity ([H+]) trends, indicating that [H+] is a more useful metric of acidification.

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