The Ocean Below: Scientific Plan Measures Ocean’s Carbon Cycle, Predicts Its Future Conditions

2016-06-28T19:24:18+00:00 March 31, 2016|
This diagram of the fast carbon cycle shows the movement of carbon between land, atmosphere, and oceans in billions of tons per year. Yellow numbers are natural fluxes, red are human contributions, white indicate stored carbon. (Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

(Click to enlarge) This diagram of the fast carbon cycle shows the movement of carbon between land, atmosphere, and oceans in billions of tons per year. Yellow numbers are natural fluxes, red are human contributions, white indicate stored carbon. (Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Vast and amorphous, the ocean covers more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface. It is a key player in the global carbon cycle, producing about half of the world’s output of organic carbon.

(From ScienceDaily) — Unlike terrestrial ecosystems, which can store carbon for decades, most of the organic carbon produced in the ocean is converted into CO2 within a few days. New work by UC Santa Barbara researchers aims to facilitate a new understanding of ocean carbon transport processes, which affect climates around the world.

In a plan written for NASA, the UCSB scientists and colleagues have developed a blueprint for quantifying present conditions in the ocean’s carbon cycle and developing tools to predict its future states. The EXport Processes in the Ocean from RemoTe Sensing (EXPORTS) Science Plan is described in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science and appears in its entirety online at NASA.

“Predicting how the ocean’s carbon cycle changes in the future remains one of the greatest challenges in oceanography,” said lead author David Siegel, director of UCSB’s Earth Research Institute. “EXPORTS combines modeling, satellite data and ship and robotic field sampling to assemble a comprehensive understanding of how carbon is processed by the world’s oceans. The resulting data sets will be used to determine the implications for present and future climates.”

To achieve this goal, the investigators intend to quantify mechanisms of the ocean’s biological pump, a major component of the carbon cycle. Its processes control the export of carbon from the euphotic zone — the well-lit, upper ocean — to the aphotic or twilight zone, where a variable fraction of that exported organic carbon is respired back as CO2. This process of organic carbon transport and sequestration defines the impact of the ocean ecosystem on atmospheric CO2 levels and hence climate.

Carbon is present in the atmosphere and is stored in soils, oceans and Earth’s crust. Any movement of carbon between — or, in the case of the ocean, within — these reservoirs is called a flux. According to the researchers, quantifying this carbon flux is critical for predicting the atmosphere’s response to changing climates.

Read the full article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160330174212.htm