Thursday, August 23, 2012

New paper finds a large increase of the CO2 sink in N Atlantic from 2002-2009

Settled science update: A paper published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research finds from an "unprecedented number of high-quality" observations collected from a cruise ship that there was "a large increase of the CO2 sink in the western tropical North Atlantic from 2002 to 2009." The finding contradicts previous studies that found a decrease or no change in oceanic CO2 uptake.

Key Points
  • Surface fCO2SW [fugacity] shows significantly lower increase trend than the atmosphere
  • The slower increase in fCO2SW causes an increase in oceanic CO2 uptake
  • Changes in winter SSTs, correlated to ENSO, and in MLD contribute to this trend
Geun-Ha Park
Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, USA
Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, NOAA, Miami, Florida, USA
East Sea Research Institute, Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, Uljin, South Korea
Rik Wanninkhof
Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, NOAA, Miami, Florida, USA
Determining a robust trend of surface ocean carbon dioxide (CO2) for a period shorter than a decade is challenging due to large seasonal variability and a sparsity of data. Here, we estimate the multiannual trend of surface CO2 in the region of 19°N–20°N, 65°W–68°W for the period of 2002–2009. We used an unprecedented number of high-quality underway data of the fugacity of CO2 in surface seawater (fCO2SW) collected from 137 cruises using an automated system onboard the cruise ship Explorer of the Seas. The growth rate of fCO2SW was estimated by two de-seasonalization approaches that showed similar and significantly lower values than the atmospheric increases, leading to a large increase in the CO2 sink. The seasonal difference in the trends was significant, with fCO2SW values in winter showing no increase, while summer fCO2SW values lagged only slightly with the atmosphere. We attribute the lack of an increase in winter fCO2SW values to sea surface temperature changes, which are closely correlated with the El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation cycle, and to changes in the mixed layer depth. The slower increase of fCO2SW is also related to decreases in salinity. The 8-year averaged annual net sea-air CO2 flux was −0.06 ± 0.18 mol m−2 yr−1 compared to a climatology that shows a flux out of the ocean of +0.11 mol m−2 yr−1. The increasing flux differs from previous, mostly longer-term results for regional studies and time series stations in the North Atlantic, which suggests a decrease or no change in oceanic CO2uptake.

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