National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2015

Sea-ice melt CO2-carbonate chemistry in the western Arctic Ocean: meltwater contributions to air-sea CO2 gas exchange, mixed layer properties and rates of net community production under sea ice

Bates, N.R., R. Garley, K.E. Frey, K.L. Shake, and J.T. Mathis

Biogeosciences, 11, 6769–6789, doi: 10.5194/bg-11-6769-2014 (2014)

The carbon dioxide (CO2)-carbonate chemistry of sea-ice melt and co-located, contemporaneous seawater has rarely been studied in sea ice covered oceans. Here, we describe the CO2-carbonate chemistry of sea-ice melt (both above sea ice as "melt ponds" and below sea ice as "interface waters") and mixed-layer properties in the western Arctic Ocean in the early summer of 2010 and 2011. At 19 stations, the salinity (~ 0.5 to < 6.5), dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC; ~ 20 to < 550 μmol kg–1) and total alkalinity (TA; ~ 30 to < 500 μmol kg–1) of above-ice melt pond water was low compared to the co-located underlying mixed layer. The partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) in these melt ponds was highly variable (~ < 10 to > 1500 μatm) with the majority of melt ponds acting as potentially strong sources of CO2 to the atmosphere. The pH of melt pond waters was also highly variable ranging from mildly acidic (6.1 to 7) to slightly more alkaline than underlying seawater (>8.2 to 10.8). All of observed melt ponds had very low (< 0.1) saturation states (Ω) for calcium carbonate (CaCO3) minerals such as aragonite (Ωaragonite). Our data suggest that sea ice generated alkaline or acidic melt pond water. This melt-water chemistry dictates whether the ponds are sources of CO2 to the atmosphere or CO2 sinks. Below-ice interface water CO2-carbonate chemistry data also indicated substantial generation of alkalinity, presumably owing to dissolution of CaCO3 in sea ice. The interface waters generally had lower pCO2 and higher pH/Ωaragonite than the co-located mixed layer beneath. Sea-ice melt thus contributed to the suppression of mixed layer pCO2, thereby enhancing the surface ocean's capacity to uptake CO2 from the atmosphere. Our observations contribute to growing evidence that sea-ice CO2-carbonate chemistry is highly variable and its contribution to the complex factors that influence the balance of CO2 sinks and sources (and thereby ocean acidification) is difficult to predict in an era of rapid warming and sea-ice loss in the Arctic Ocean.

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