Polar Waters Acidifying

The increasing acidity of the world ocean is a threat to marine species, says world-renowned Antarctic marine biologist Jim McClintock, who’s ongoing research explores the chemical defenses of polar marine organisms and impacts of ocean acidification on marine invertebrates. Carbon dioxide sequestered from the atmosphere by the ocean is interfering with aragonite saturation seasonally in Arctic waters. The problem is predicted to become a constant in Arctic and Antarctic waters by 2050, seriously impacting marine life that builds shells or shell-like structures.

McClintock tells UAB:

“Existing data points to consistently increasing oceanic acidity, and that is a direct result of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere; it is incontrovertible. The ramifications for many of the organisms that call the water home are profound. There is no existing data that I am aware of that can be used to debate the trend of increasing ocean acidification.”

McClintock and co-authors reviewed recent data on ocean acidification at high latitudes for an article (pdf) in the journal Oceanography, for an issue focusing on ocean acidification worldwide. McClintock also recently published research that revealed barnacles grown under acidified seawater conditions produce weaker adult shells.

McClintock Point, in Explorers Cove, Antarctica, was named for Jim McClintock in 1998.


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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.