Melting Arctic Sea Ice Won't Expand Ocean's Carbon Storage Potential

arctic ice breaker photo

photo: US Geological Survey via flickr

Knock off one natural counterbalance to global warming: A new study in the Science shows that any hope that as Arctic sea ice melts and opens up new areas of open water potentially increasing its ability to store carbon emissions is ill-founded. In fact any increase in carbon storage will be short-lived and minor in comparison to the amount of rising emissions which would need to be stored to stop future warming.Lead author of the study, Professor Wei-Jun Cai from the University of Georgia:

Our research shows that as the ice melts, the carbon dioxide in the water very quickly reaches equilibrium with the atmosphere, so its use as a place to store CO2 declines dramatically, and quickly. We never really understood how limited these waters would be in terms of their usefulness in soaking up carbon dioxide.

To reach this conclusion, Prog Cai and colleagues spent three months in the Arctic Ocean sampling water aboard the Chinese research vessel Xue Long--with an truly international team of researchers, comprised of members of US, Chinese, Japanese, and Canadian organizations, it should be noted.

They found that the waters of the Canada Basin rapidly uptake CO2, causing the waters to be quickly acidic and therefore, Cai explains, "a poor environment for calcium-carbonate shell-bearing marine organisms."

Overall, Cai warns, "we can't expect the oceans to do the job of helping offset global warming in the short term."

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