, Volume 117, Issue 4, pp 725-738
Date: 02 Oct 2012

Ocean acidification and its impacts: an expert survey

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Abstract

The oceans moderate the rate and severity of climate change by absorbing massive amounts of anthropogenic CO2 but this results in large-scale changes in seawater chemistry, which are collectively referred to as anthropogenic ocean acidification. Despite its potentially widespread consequences, the problem of ocean acidification has been largely absent from most policy discussions of CO2 emissions, both because the science is relatively new and because the research community has yet to deliver a clear message to decision makers regarding its impacts. Here we report the results of the first expert survey in the field of ocean acidification. Fifty-three experts, who had previously participated in an IPCC workshop, were asked to assess 22 declarative statements about ocean acidification and its consequences. We find a relatively strong consensus on most issues related to past, present and future chemical aspects of ocean acidification: non-anthropogenic ocean acidification events have occurred in the geological past, anthropogenic CO2 emissions are the main (but not the only) mechanism generating the current ocean acidification event, and anthropogenic ocean acidification that has occurred due to historical fossil fuel emissions will be felt for centuries. Experts generally agreed that there will be impacts on biological and ecological processes and biogeochemical feedbacks but levels of agreement were lower, with more variability across responses. Levels of agreement were higher for statements regarding calcification, primary production and nitrogen fixation than for those about impacts on foodwebs. The levels of agreement for statements pertaining to socio-economic impacts, such as impacts on food security, and to more normative policy issues, were relatively low.