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Arctic Waters Experiencing 'Rapid Acidification,' Levels Up By 30%

May 06, 2013 12:50 PM EDT

Arctic marine waters are experiencing widespread, rapid acidification primarily driven by an uptake of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by human activities, according to a new report from scientists from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program.

The researchers report incremental lowering of arctic seawater pH; the lower a substance's pH, the more acidic it is.

"As a result of human carbon dioxide emissions, the average acidity of surface ocean waters worldwide is now about 30 percent higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution," the report stated.

The report says arctic marine ecosystems are highly likely to undergo significant changes due to ocean acidification that will result in direct and indirect effects on marine life, but exactly what will happen to Arctic marine life is unknown. The scientists are not ruling out a positive change.

"It is likely that some marine organisms will respond positively to new conditions associated with ocean acidification, while others will be disadvantaged, possibly to the point of local extinction," the report states.

As CO2 is warms the planet, it also makes the alkaline seas more acidic when it is absorbed from the air, the BBC reports. The absorption is particularly fast in cold waters, making the Arctic especially susceptible as melting sea ice facilitates an increased uptake of CO2.

"Continued rapid change is a certainty," said the report's chairman, Richard Bellerby from the Norwegian Institute for Water Research.

"We have already passed critical thresholds," Bellerby told the BBC. "Even if we stop emissions now, acidification will last tens of thousands of years."

The researchers are urging Arctic-specific long-term studies on marine ecosystems to better understand the effects of acidification. 

The Arctic Monitoring Assessment Program is meeting this week to discus the details of the study, which can be read in summary here.

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