Climate change affects Southern Ocean carbon sink

May 17, 2007

The first evidence that recent climate change has weakened one the Earth's natural carbon 'sinks' is published this week in the journal Science.

A four-year study by scientists from the University of East Anglia (UEA), British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Max-Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry reveals that an increase in winds over the Southern Ocean, caused by greenhouse gases and ozone depletion, has led to a release of stored CO2 into the atmosphere and is preventing further absorption of the greenhouse gas.

Lead author Dr Corinne Le Quéré of UEA and BAS said,

"This is the first time that we've been able to say that climate change itself is responsible for the saturation of the Southern Ocean sink. This is serious. All climate models predict that this kind of 'feedback' will continue and intensify during this century. The Earth's carbon sinks – of which the Southern Ocean accounts for 15% – absorb about half of all human carbon emissions. With the Southern Ocean reaching its saturation point more CO2 will stay in our atmosphere."

This new research suggests that stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought. Additionally, acidification in the Southern Ocean is likely to reach dangerous levels earlier than the projected date of 2050.

Professor Chris Rapley, Director of British Antarctic Survey said,

"Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the world's oceans have absorbed about a quarter of the 500 gigatons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere by humans. The possibility that in a warmer world the Southern Ocean – the strongest ocean sink - is weakening is a cause for concern."

The saturation of the Southern Ocean was revealed by scrutinising observations of atmospheric CO2 from 40 stations around the world. Since 1981 the Southern Ocean sink ceased to increase, whereas CO2 emissions increased by 40%.

Source: University of East Anglia

Explore further: How productive are the ore factories in the deep sea?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Expedition to Subantarctic to track climate change

Feb 17, 2014

The University of Otago's research vessel the RV Polaris has sailed to the Auckland Islands on an expedition to track climate indicators recorded in sediment deposited on the floor of the Fiords and lakes ...

Australia pushes for ocean 'fertilisation' ban

May 16, 2013

Australia said it was pushing for a ban Thursday of any commercial use of a pioneering technique to reduce the impacts of climate change by "fertilising" the world's oceans with iron, warning of significant ...

Dwindling buffer effect?

Mar 28, 2013

(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 ...

Recommended for you

How productive are the ore factories in the deep sea?

18 hours ago

About ten years after the first moon landing, scientists on earth made a discovery that proved that our home planet still holds a lot of surprises in store for us. Looking through the portholes of the submersible ...

NASA image: Volcanoes in Guatemala

23 hours ago

This photo of volcanoes in Guatemala was taken from NASA's C-20A aircraft during a four-week Earth science radar imaging mission deployment over Central and South America. The conical volcano in the center ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Study links California drought to global warming

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...

Google+ boss leaving the company

The executive credited with bringing the Google+ social network to life is leaving the Internet colossus after playing a key role there for nearly eight years.