Waters around the North Pole are absorbing carbon dioxide at such a rate that they will soon start dissolving the shells of living sea creatures. The potentially disastrous consequences for the food chain have been highlighted by Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso of the National Centre for Scientific Research in France. His team of oceanographers have produced startling predictions about the acidity of the Arctic Ocean after research carried out on the Svalbard archipelago, a group of islands half way between Norway and the North Pole, revealed that the problem is more advanced than scientists thought. Their forecasts suggest that by 2018, 10 per cent of the ocean will be corrosively acidic, rising to 50 per cent in 2050. By 2100 the entire Arctic Ocean will be inhospitable to shellfish, they predict. "This is extremely worrying," Prof Gattuso told the Oceans of Tomorrow conference in Barcelona. "We knew that the seas were getting more acidic and this would disrupt the ability of shellfish � like mussels � to grow their shells. But now we realise the situation is much worse." One of the most vulnerable creatures is likely to be the mollusc Limacina helicina, which seabirds, whales and several species of fish rely on for food. The process of acidification � by which carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere as pollution is absorbed by water and converted into carbonic acid � is taking places in seas and oceans across the world. But the prognosis is particularly bleak in the polar regions because the gas is more soluble in cold water than hot water. "Over the whole planet, there will be a threefold increase in the average acidity of the oceans, which is unprecedented during the past 20 million years," Prof Gattuso said. "That level of acidification will cause immense damage to the ecosystem and the food chain, particularly in the Arctic."