IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

TS.3.3.2 Changes in Ocean Biogeochemistry and Salinity

The uptake of anthropogenic carbon since 1750 has led to the ocean becoming more acidic, with an average decrease in surface pH of 0.1 units.[7] Uptake of CO2 by the ocean changes its chemical equilibrium. Dissolved CO2 forms a weak acid, so as dissolved CO2 increases, pH decreases (i.e., the ocean becomes more acidic). The overall pH change is computed from estimates of anthropogenic carbon uptake and simple ocean models. Direct observations of pH at available stations for the last 20 years also show trends of decreasing pH, at a rate of about 0.02 pH units per decade. Decreasing ocean pH decreases the depth below which calcium carbonate dissolves and increases the volume of the ocean that is undersaturated with respect to the minerals aragonite (a meta-stable form of calcium carbonate) and calcite, which are used by marine organisms to build their shells. Decreasing surface ocean pH and rising surface temperatures also act to reduce the ocean buffer capacity for CO2 and the rate at which the ocean can take up excess atmospheric CO2. {5.4, 7.3}

The oxygen concentration of the ventilated thermocline (about 100 to 1000 m) decreased in most ocean basins between 1970 and 1995. These changes may reflect a reduced rate of ventilation linked to upper-level warming and/or changes in biological activity. {5.4}

There is now widespread evidence for changes in ocean salinity at gyre and basin scales in the past half century (see Figure TS.17) with the near-surface waters in the more evaporative regions increasing in salinity in almost all ocean basins. These changes in salinity imply changes in the hydrological cycle over the oceans. In the high-latitude regions in both hemispheres, the surface waters show an overall freshening consistent with these regions having greater precipitation, although higher runoff, ice melting, advection and changes in the meridional overturning circulation may also contribute. The subtropical latitudes in both hemispheres are characterised by an increase in salinity in the upper 500 m. The patterns are consistent with a change in the Earth’s hydrological cycle, in particular with changes in precipitation and inferred larger water transport in the atmosphere from low latitudes to high latitudes and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. {5.2}

Linear Trends of Zonally Averaged Salinity (1955 - 1998)

Figure TS.17

Figure TS.17. Linear trends (1955–1998) of zonally averaged salinity (Practical Salinity Scale) for the World Ocean. The contour interval is 0.01 per decade and dashed contours are ±0.005 per decade. The dark, solid line is the zero contour. Red shading indicates values equal to or greater than 0.005 per decade and blue shading indicates values equal to or less than –0.005 per decade. {Figure 5.5}

  1. ^  Acidity is a measure of the concentration of H+ ions and is reported in pH units, where pH = –log(H+). A pH decrease of 1 unit means a 10-fold increase in the concentration of H+, or acidity.