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Climate and Antarctica: Southern Ocean Sinks More Carbon

Sep 17, 2015 03:07 PM EDT
The ARSV Laurence M. Gould in the Southern Ocean
The view from the deck of the research ship, the ARSV Lawrence M. Gould, that has collected data regarding carbon uptake in the Southern Ocean for more than 13 years.
(Photo : Colm Sweeney/ CIRES & NOAA)

Currently, the Southern Ocean is doing the heavy lifting in terms of clearing greenhouse gases from our atmosphere, it seems. Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, and elsewhere recently published findings on this in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

The research team used ship-based data and a range of analysis techniques, finding that that particular end of the planet has taken up more and more carbon in the last 13 years. This differs from the early 1990s to the early 2000s, when it seemed that the carbon sink in the Southern Ocean was weakening, according to a release.

However, that's changed. In particular, below the 35th parallel south, the Southern Ocean is playing an instrumental role. "Although it comprises only 26 percent of the total ocean area, the Southern Ocean has absorbed nearly 40 percent of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide taken up by the global oceans up to the present," says David Munro, a scientist at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado Boulder, and an author on the GRL paper.

The data readings are also significant because they were taken in the harshest, most blustery area of the Southern Ocean, in the Drake Passage, as Colm Sweeney, lead investigator on the Drake Passage study, co-author on both the GRL andScience papers, and a CIRES scientist working in the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, noted in the release. "The critical element to this study is that we were able to sustain measurements in this harsh environment as long as we have-both in the summer and the winter, in every year over the last 13 years. This data set of ocean carbon measurements is the densest ongoing time series in the Southern Ocean."

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