Letter | Published:

Global warming amplified by reduced sulphur fluxes as a result of ocean acidification

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 975978 (2013) | Download Citation



Climate change and decreasing seawater pH (ocean acidification)1 have widely been considered as uncoupled consequences of the anthropogenic CO2 perturbation2,3. Recently, experiments in seawater enclosures (mesocosms) showed that concentrations of dimethylsulphide (DMS), a biogenic sulphur compound, were markedly lower in a low-pH environment4. Marine DMS emissions are the largest natural source of atmospheric sulphur5 and changes in their strength have the potential to alter the Earth’s radiation budget6. Here we establish observational-based relationships between pH changes and DMS concentrations to estimate changes in future DMS emissions with Earth system model7 climate simulations. Global DMS emissions decrease by about 18(±3)% in 2100 compared with pre-industrial times as a result of the combined effects of ocean acidification and climate change. The reduced DMS emissions induce a significant additional radiative forcing, of which 83% is attributed to the impact of ocean acidification, tantamount to an equilibrium temperature response between 0.23 and 0.48 K. Our results indicate that ocean acidification has the potential to exacerbate anthropogenic warming through a mechanism that is not considered at present in projections of future climate change.

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The work of K.D.S. and S.D.A. was financially supported by the EU FP7 project EPOCA (grant no. 211384). This is a contribution to EU FP7 projects COMBINE (grant no. 226520) and CARBOCHANGE (grant no. 264879). K.Z. was supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy as part of the SciDAC programme. We thank I. Stemmler and U. Niemeier for internal review of the original manuscript.

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    • Ernst Maier-Reimer



  1. Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstrasse 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

    • Katharina D. Six
    • , Silvia Kloster
    • , Tatiana Ilyina
    •  & Ernst Maier-Reimer
  2. Plymouth Marine Laboratory, The Hoe, Plymouth PL1 3DH, UK

    • Stephen D. Archer
  3. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, 60 Bigelow Dr., PO Box 380, East Boothbay, Maine 04544, USA

    • Stephen D. Archer
  4. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PO Box 999, MSIN K9-24, Richland, Washington 99352, USA

    • Kai Zhang


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K.D.S. wrote the paper, carried out the experiments with MPI-ESM and analysed the data. S.K. carried out the experiments with ECHAM-HAM2. S.K. and K.Z. analysed the data. Mesocoms data were provided by S.D.A. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Katharina D. Six or Ernst Maier-Reimer.

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