Rising Acidity Threatens Antarctic Shelf Ecosystems

A new study warns of increasing acidity in Antarctic continental shelves within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) under high greenhouse gas trajectories. As carbon emissions mix vertically, severe acidification could occur at all water levels in these biodiversity hotspots by 2100.

Coastal Areas Face Higher Risks

Compared to the open ocean, the researchers highlight that underwater continental shelf areas near coastlines face disproportionately higher acidification threats. This raises worries for Antarctic MPAs aimed at safeguarding unique polar marine ecosystems.

Ocean Acidification Explained

While oceans absorb atmospheric CO2 to help mitigate climate change, the uptake causes chemical changes termed ocean acidification – raising acidity and affecting marine habitats.

Study Findings and Projections

Under moderate to very high emissions scenarios, Antarctic MPA ecosystems could undergo significant to severe acidification by 2100.

Widespread aragonite undersaturation is expected at varying ocean depths in MPAs. This mineral is critical for organisms like pteropods to form shells.

Surface ocean pH could decline up to 0.36 units in MPAs by 2100 based on high projections – representing a 100% increase in acidity.

Recommendations Proposed

Given acidification risks, the researchers advocate strong climate mitigation efforts coupled with conservation strategies like expanding Antarctic MPAs to curb added ecosystem pressures from human activities.

Existing and Proposed Antarctic MPAs

Several MPAs currently protect sections of Antarctica’s continental shelf and marine habitats including the Ross Sea and South Orkney Islands.

With 3 additional proposed MPAs, nearly 60% of Antarctic shelf waters could come under protected status. India has also extended support towards establishing 2 more Antarctic MPAs.



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