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Decadal trends in the ocean carbon sink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 26 Apr 2019
DatePublished (current) - 28 May 2019

Abstract

Measurements show large decadal variability in the rate of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere that is not driven by CO2 emissions. The decade of the 1990s experienced enhanced carbon accumulation in the atmosphere relative to emissions, while in the 2000s, the atmospheric growth rate slowed, even though emissions grew rapidly. These variations are driven by natural sources and sinks of CO2 due to the ocean and the terrestrial biosphere. In this study, we compare three independent methods for estimating oceanic CO2 uptake and find that the ocean carbon sink could be responsible for up to 40% of the observed decadal variability in atmospheric CO2 accumulation. Data-based estimates of the ocean carbon sink from pCO2 mapping methods and decadal ocean inverse models generally agree on the magnitude and sign of decadal variability in the ocean CO2 sink at both global and regional scales. Simulations with ocean biogeochemical models confirm that climate variability drove the observed decadal trends in ocean CO2 uptake, but also demonstrate that the sensitivity of ocean CO2 uptake to climate variability may be too weak in models. Furthermore, all estimates point toward coherent decadal variability in the oceanic and terrestrial CO2 sinks, and this variability is not well-matched by current global vegetation models. Reconciling these differences will help to constrain the sensitivity of oceanic and terrestrial CO2 uptake to climate variability and lead to improved climate projections and decadal climate predictions.

    Research areas

  • Carbon dioxide, ocean carbon sink, terrestrial carbon sink, climate variability, carbon budget

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    Rights statement: This is the final published version of the article (version of record). It first appeared online via PNAS at https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/05/20/1900371116. Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

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