Dwindling buffer effect?

Mar 28, 2013 by Peter Rüegg
Strong winds churn up deep water, which in turn release sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere. Credit: istockphoto.com

(Phys.org) —The Southern Ocean could absorb relatively less carbon dioxide in future if the global temperatures continue to rise as a result of human activities, as climate researchers from ETH Zurich demonstrate based on an analysis of two sediment drill cores from the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. The study has just been published in the journal Science.

Oceans, especially the cold regions around the poles, act as CO2 buffers: they have absorbed around half of anthropogenic . However, there is mounting evidence that this buffer capacity is dwindling. In order to find out whether the Southern Ocean might absorb less CO2 in future, ETH-Zurich researchers studied the of these waters during the last million years based on sediment .

Strong winds churn up deep waters

During this time, cold and warm phases alternated periodically. At the beginning of a warm period, the global temperature rose, which is why the sub-Antarctic wind belt – the Roaring Forties – drifted south, closer to the Antarctic. The strong winds churned up the seawater and deep waters rose to the surface, releasing the CO2 they had been sequestering back into the atmosphere. Moreover, the deep water transported nutrients upwards, which stimulated the growth of algae and plankton. In the transition from a warm period to a cold one, however, these gigantic circulator pumps were switched off, CO2 was "stored" in the deep water and biological activity fell sharply.

"Based on the reconstruction of the productivity of the Southern Ocean, we can prove that the in the atmosphere and the upwelling intensity of the deep water are linked," says first author on the study Samuel Jaccard from ETH Zurich's Geological Institute. The colder it is on Earth, the less the deep water rises and therefore the more CO2 "sinks" in the sea.

Based on their findings, Jaccard estimates that the Southern Ocean will be stirred up more intensely in future due to the increasing , which means more CO2 will get into the atmosphere or remain there and increase the rise in temperature. As a result, the buffer capacity of the southern polar seas should decline.

Explore further: Remnants of Tropical Depression Peipah still raining on Philippines

More information: Jaccard, S. et al. Two modes of change in southern ocean productivity over the past million years. Science, 22 March 2013: 1419-1423. DOI:10.1126/science.1227545

Related Stories

Plunge in CO2 put the freeze on Antarctica

Dec 01, 2011

Plunge in CO2 put the freeze on AntarcticaAtmospheric carbon dioxide levels plunged by 40% before and during the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet 34 million years ago, according to a new study. The finding helps solv ...

Wind shifts may stir CO2 from Antarctic depths

Mar 12, 2009

Natural releases of carbon dioxide from the Southern Ocean due to shifting wind patterns could have amplified global warming at the end of the last ice age--and could be repeated as manmade warming proceeds, ...

Recommended for you

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

2 hours ago

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...

New study outlines 'water world' theory of life's origins

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Life took root more than four billion years ago on our nascent Earth, a wetter and harsher place than now, bathed in sizzling ultraviolet rays. What started out as simple cells ultimately transformed ...

Agriculture's growing effects on rain

Apr 15, 2014

(Phys.org) —Increased agricultural activity is a rain taker, not a rain maker, according to researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and their collaborators at the University of California Los ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

The Alchemist
1 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2013
Great article. This is how CO2 will be scary.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2013
Everyone is scared with CO2, but nobody wants to admit the existence of cold fusion or magnetic motor replacements of fossil fuels....;-)
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) Mar 31, 2013
In my theory the most of global warming is generated with heat of radioactive elements (potassium) inside of marine water, which is accelerated with dark matter cloud at the galactic plane. We can observe the evidence of global warming even at another planets of solar system. In recent study the scientists find the 'missing heat' of global warming 700 meters below the ocean's surface.

More news stories

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

Making 'bucky-balls' in spin-out's sights

(Phys.org) —A new Oxford spin-out firm is targeting the difficult challenge of manufacturing fullerenes, known as 'bucky-balls' because of their spherical shape, a type of carbon nanomaterial which, like ...