By running a series of models that took into account a variety of fossil fuel emission scenarios, Gruber and colleagues found that, in the California Current system, the combination of natural upwellings and atmospheric CO2 deposits will rapidly increase the extent of surface waters in which saturation levels drop to 1.5 or lower. Within 30 years, those conditions will be found throughout the summer in the top 60 meters; by 2050, waters with saturation levels above 1.5 will have largely disappeared. For some seafloor habitats close to the coast, that tipping point is likely to occur even more swiftly – within the next 20 to 30 years.
(By way of comparison, at least one study has suggested a similar timeline in the Arctic, with the same degree of undersaturation of aragonite not expected in the Southern Ocean or much of the rest of the North Pacific until shortly before the end of this century.)
Gruber and colleagues note that their research has "major implications" for the California Current ecosystem. For example, if the tiny sea snails known as pteropods can't form shells, then it bodes ill for the salmon which prey on them. The economic impacts could also be devastating: the west coast oyster fishery, after all, is worth $110 million a year.