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A changing ocean seen with clarity

  1. Peter G. Brewer,1
  1. Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, 7700 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing, CA 95039

The Hawaiian archipelago, the most remote group of islands on Earth, has long been associated with the world's most recognizable image of global change. The Mauna Loa atmospheric CO2 record, begun in March 1958 by Charles David Keeling, shows with startling clarity the saw-tooth pattern of the seasonal changes of land vegetation, and the still astonishing, dominating, rise forced by fossil fuel burning which is rapidly changing our world. Within perhaps only 5 years the peak in the annual signal atop Mauna Loa will touch the 400 ppm by volume mark, which would have been inconceivable to scientists of the first half of the twentieth century. But there is one huge and environmentally critical signal that is not easily seen in the “Keeling curve,” and that is the oceanic uptake of fossil fuel CO2. In this issue of PNAS, Dore et al. (1) document with great clarity the changes in ocean CO2 chemistry and pH occurring in the ocean in the waters off Hawaii from fossil fuel CO2 invasion.


The changes in pCO2 (partial pressure of CO2) in the atmosphere are exactly paralleled in the ocean, but the consequences are very different. CO2 has no atmospheric chemistry and is simply mixed. But increasing CO2 in sea water induces changes in pH, and Dore et al. (1) have measured these changes with remarkable accuracy and precision. They thereby forcefully link air and sea and provide unmistakable evidence of ocean acidification and the complex and still poorly understood consequences of this. And they go beyond the simple surface expression to explore the changes taking place at depth.

Large-scale uptake of atmospheric fossil fuel CO2 has long been recognized (2) as a fundamental consequence of the acid–base balance of slightly alkaline ocean surface …

1E-mail: brpe{at}mbari.org

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