Oceanographers investigate the ocean's carbon-absorbing processes over time

phys.org | 2/8/2017 | Staff
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It's a well-known fact that the ocean is one of the biggest absorbers of the carbon dioxide emitted by way of human activity. What's less well known is how the ocean's processes for absorbing that carbon change over time, and how they might affect its ability to buffer climate change.

For UC Santa Barbara oceanographer Timothy DeVries and graduate student Michael Nowicki, gaining a good understanding of the trends in the ocean's carbon cycle is key to improving current models of carbon uptake by the Earth's oceans. This information could, in turn, yield better climate predictions. Their paper on the topic is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rate - CO2 - Atmosphere - Rate - Emissions

"We started off looking at the rate at which CO2 was accumulating in the atmosphere, and then we compared that to the rate of emissions," DeVries said. "One would expect basically that if you're increasing emissions at 10 percent, the accumulation rate in the atmosphere should increase at 10 percent, for example.

"But what we found is that the rate at which CO2 was accumulating in the atmosphere doesn't necessarily track emissions," he continued. Indeed, after looking at two decades' worth of carbon emissions versus atmospheric carbon accumulation data, the researchers came away with some counterintuitive results.

1990s - Accumulation - Rate - Atmosphere - Emissions

"We saw in the 1990s that the accumulation rate in the atmosphere was increasing quite fast, whereas the emissions weren't increasing very quickly at all," DeVries said. "Whereas the opposite was true in the 2000s when the emissions increased quite substantially, but the accumulation rate in the atmosphere was steady."

That variability, the researchers said, is due in part to the ocean's carbon-absorbing activities, a range of physical and biological processes that move carbon from the surface to depth. Up to 40% of the decadal variability of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere can be attributed to...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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