Catlin Arctic Survey 2010
The 2010 Arctic Survey focused on the implications of sea ice loss, specifically ocean change and acidification. The expedition carried out vital research into how greenhouse gases (GHG) could affect the Arctic Ocean's marine life, including species that are essential to life on our planet.
High atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have led to a host of environmental responses, two of which are relevant to the 2010 survey:
- the widely publicised reduction in the sea ice cover on the Arctic Ocean, the loss of which will lead to further climate change
- an increase in acidification of the oceans worldwide.
Because CO2 is more readily absorbed by cold water, changes highlighted by scientific research in the Arctic Ocean could act as a global early-warning system.
The objectives of the 2010 survey were to:
- establish an ‘Ice Base’ from which scientists could carry out first-hand research, studying ocean acidification and other potential changes to Arctic waters resulting from carbon emissions
- take further measurements of the Arctic sea ice in a different location from the 2009 expedition.
The results of the 2010 Catlin Arctic Survey are still being analysed. The results and conclusions will be posted here when they become available.
The extent of sea ice in the Arctic is decreasing. There is a significant probability that:
- by around 2020 only 20 per cent of the Arctic Ocean basin will have sea ice cover in the late summertimes
- by 2030-40, the white 'North Pole ice' will have been transformed into an entirely blue, open ocean in the summers.
Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher now than they have been for at least 800,000 years. As the Arctic sea ice melts, growing expanses of cold water (which more easily absorb CO2) are being exposed to these higher levels.
Marine biologists, oceanographers and polar explorers are studying the impact of this increased absorption, which is changing the water's chemistry and making it more acidic. And scientists believe the polar oceans will be the first to experience the impact of 'ocean acidification' because they are colder.
A quarter of all CO2 emissions are absorbed by the Earth's oceans, which means the seas reduce the impacts of this GHG on climate. However, CO2 also plays an important role in determining the pH of surface salt water, which is currently slightly alkaline.
When CO2 dissolves in seawater it forms a weak acid and the oceans naturally accommodate small changes. But the rate at which atmospheric CO2 is currently increasing is so fast that the natural buffering systems of the oceans can’t cope.
This is leading to a slight decrease in pH – 'ocean acidification' – which may cause seawater to become corrosive to the shells and armour-plating of some marine creatures within decades. Individual species, habitats and ecosystems would all be threatened.
If global CO2 emissions from human activities continue to rise on current trends, the average pH of the oceans could fall to a lower level than at any time for millions of years.
Ocean acidification video