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Iceland: The Quiet threat of ocean acidification

“As Iceland bases its livelihood on the sea, ocean acidification may prove a much more dire problem than global warming,” says Hrönn Egilsdóttir, a post-doc at the University of Iceland and a scientist in marine biology.

In 2009 Egilsdóttir began working towards her Ph.D. at the Faculty of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland together with the Marine Research Institute, Iceland, and she defended her thesis last year. Her doctoral project aimed to increase understanding of ocean acidification implications for calcifying biota in the marine environment. Acidification is when the strength of carbon dioxide increases and its acidity (pH-value) decreases. “250 million years ago 95% of sea creatures died out, probably after a considerable increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the ocean, not unlike what is now happening due to human actions.” Altogether, the research presented in her thesis contributes information needed to understand the impact of environmental changes, in particular, ocean acidification, for calcifying biota in intertidal, coastal, and deep-sea environments. In her thesis, she states that the deep sea is a relatively stable environment. Regardless, numerical model predictions suggest the Nordic Seas will be largely under-saturated concerning aragonite by the year 2100, posing a severe threat to calcifying mollusc in the region.

The ocean receives around 30 percent of the carbon dioxide

Egilsdóttir says that it is undisputed that the ocean gets approximately 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted due to the burning of fossil fuels. Jón Ólafsson, Professor Emeritus in Oceanography at the University of Iceland and his team have collected data in the sea around Iceland all the way back to 1984.


Hrönn Egilsdóttir, Picture: Stefán Valsson.

“This data is unique as few scientists measured carbon dioxide in the ocean at that time. The data shows unequivocally how rapid the changes have been. Comparison of this data with other places on the earth reveals that the ocean north of Iceland acidifies considerably faster than further south in the world,” says Egilsdóttir.

“The prediction is that ocean acidification is a serious threat to shellfish, i.e. sandwiches such as mussels, scallop and sea urchins in the next centuries,” says Egilsdóttir.

This also applies to red seaweed, snails, mollusk and the coral reef south of Iceland. “The corals are in real danger due to ocean acidification. This is, of course, a serious matter for the Icelandic economy as the coral reefs are considered to be the breeding station for fish we count on, both to eat and export. Because there is much at stake for Iceland, we should react immediately and lead other nations by a good example, especially since we could easily be the most ecological country in the world,” concludes Egilsdóttir.

Picture: Erlendur Bogason.

Cover picture: Jón Örn Guðbjartsson.

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