Observations from research aircraft show that the Southern Ocean absorbs much more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases, confirming it is a very strong carbon sink and an important buffer for the effects of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new, NASA-supported study.www.nasa.gov
Once human-produced emissions of CO2 — from burning fossil fuels and other activities — enter the atmosphere, some of the gas is taken up by plants and some is absorbed into the ocean. While the overall concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to increase, causing the global temperature to rise, these land and ocean “sinks” slow the effect.
Measurements of CO2 and related properties in the ocean suggest that 40 percent of all human-produced CO2 now stored in the ocean was originally taken up by the Southern Ocean. But measuring the actual flux at the surface — the back and forth exchange of CO2 between the water and the overlying air throughout a year — has been challenging.
The global ocean absorbed 34 billion metric tons of carbon from the burning of fossil fuels from 1994 to 2007—a fourfold increase of 2.6 billion metric tons per year when compared to the period starting from the Industrial Revolution in 1800 to 1994.