As I understand, the dissolving of carbon dioxide leads to increased acidification of the oceans, and thus increased atmospheric CO2 levels would lead to more dissolution in the oceans and thus increased levels of carbonic acid.

However, also as CO2 is a gas, it's solubility decreases with temperature, thus as atmospheric CO2 increase leads to higher surface ocean temperatures via greenhouse effect, does this reduce the solubility of CO2 in the oceans to any degree, in some sense limiting the effect of increased gas concentrations on the acidification.

Furthermore on a slight tangent, surely the carbonate buffering system of the ocean is large enough to withstand the effects of more dissolved atmospheric carbon dioxide to maintain a constant pH?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am a new user, so I cannot comment on the very good answer above. Therefore I write here. A large enough increase in temperature could yes, in theory, increase the surface pCO2 (by decreasing CO2 sulubility) to the point that the surface ocean's pCO2 is larger than the atmospheric pCO2. Now, how much that increase in temperature should be is another question. Not sure if that is comparable to the warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. $\endgroup$
    – earthyguy
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 21:01

1 Answer 1


This is a very complex issue, and therefore I'm not entirely convinced I am qualified to answer that, considering how little I understand chemistry, but I'll give it a try.

The Flux of CO2 can be expressed as follows (see e. g. Wanninkhof et al. 2009):

$$F = kK_0(p_{\mathrm{CO}_2sea} - p_{\mathrm{CO}_2air})$$

By convention a negative $F$ means a flux from the atmosphere to the ocean.
$k$ is the transfert velocity and $K_0$ is the solubility which indeed decreases with temperature, as you noted.
$p_{\mathrm{CO}_2sea}$ and $p_{\mathrm{CO}_2air}$ are respectively the partial pressure of CO2 in the sea and in the atmosphere.
Now, with $T$ increasing, $K_0$ (and also $k$ I believe) decreases, but, as long as the partial pressure of CO2 is larger in the atmosphere than in the ocean there still is a flux toward the ocean.

So worst case scenario, increasing temperature slows down the absorption of CO2 by the ocean but does not negate it. However of course, if the temperature increase to begin with, it is because $p_{\mathrm{CO}_2air}$ is increasing, so this is a bit of a moot point anyway.

As far as the ocean buffer goes, we're talking here of an uptake of ca. 2 Pg (i.e. $2\times10^{15}$g) of carbon dioxide per year (the preindustrial uptake being ca. 0.5 Pg according to Takahashi et al. 2009), which is too much to be buffered. For comparison, phytoplankton net primary productivity is ca. 50 Pg of fixed carbon per year (Falkowski et al. 1998).

Falkowski, P. G., Barber, R. T., Smetacek, V., 1998. Biogeochemical Controls and Feedbacks on Ocean Primary Production. Science, 281: 200-207.
Takahashi, T., et al. 2009. Climatological mean and decadal change in surface ocean pCO2, and net sea–air CO2 flux over the global oceans. Deep Sea Research II, 56: 554-577.
Wanninkhof, R., et al. 2009. Advances in Quantifying Air-Sea Gas Exchange and Environmental Forcing. Annual Review of Marine Science, 1: 213-244.

  • $\begingroup$ K_0 could actually decrease to the point to make pCO2_sea increase and, thus pCO2_sea - pCO2_air change sign. So the following sentence is not necessarily always correct: "So worst case scenario, increasing temperature slows down the absorption of CO2 by the ocean but does not negate it." $\endgroup$
    – ouranos
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ wouldn't it have to be negative to do so? $\endgroup$
    – plannapus
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 8:56
  • $\begingroup$ I mean, temperature could increase to the point that pCO2_sea becomes lager than pCO2_air. The difference pCO2_sea - pCO2_air would need to be negative, yes. But why not? $\endgroup$
    – ouranos
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 9:05

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