National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

Decadal variability in twentieth-century ocean acidification in the California Current Ecosystem

Osborne, E.B., R.C. Thunell, N. Gruber, R.A. Feely, and C.R. Benitez-Nelson

Nature Geosci., 13, 43–49, doi: 10.1038/s41561-019-0499-z, View online (2019)

Oceanic uptake of CO2 can mitigate climate change, but also results in global ocean acidification. Ocean acidification-related changes to the marine carbonate system can disturb ecosystems and hinder calcification by some organisms. Here, we use the calcification response of planktonic foraminifera as a tool to reconstruct the progression of ocean acidification in the California Current Ecosystem through the twentieth century. Measurements of nearly 2,000 fossil foraminifera shell weights and areas preserved in a marine sediment core showed a 20% reduction in calcification by a surface-dwelling foraminifera species. Using modern calibrations, this response translates to an estimated 35% reduction in carbonate ion concentration, a biologically important chemical component of the carbonate system. Assuming other aspects of the carbonate system, this represents a 0.21 decline in pH, exceeding the estimated global average decline by more than a factor of two. Our proxy record also shows considerable variability that is significantly correlated with Pacific Decadal Oscillation and decadal-scale changes in upwelling strength, a relationship that until now has been obscured by the relatively short observational record. This modulation suggests that climatic variations will play an important role in amplifying or alleviating the anthropogenic signal and progression of ocean acidification in this region.

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