Climate Change Altering the Southern Ocean’s Ability to Absorb Carbon Dioxide


Long-term measurements reveal links between climate change and ocean carbon dynamics.

Climate change is altering the ability of the Southern Ocean off the West Antarctic Peninsula to absorb carbon dioxide, according to a new study, and that could magnify climate change in the long run.

The West Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing some of the most rapid climate change on Earth, featuring dramatic increases in temperatures, retreats in glaciers and declines in sea ice. The Southern Ocean absorbs nearly half of the carbon dioxide—the key greenhouse gas linked to climate change—that is absorbed by all the world’s oceans.

“Understanding how climate change will affect carbon dioxide absorption by the Southern Ocean, especially in coastal Antarctic regions like the West Antarctic Peninsula, is critical to improving predictions of the global impacts of climate change,” said lead author Michael Brown, an oceanography doctoral student in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

The paper, with CIRES and NOAA co-authors, is published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study tapped an unprecedented 25 years of oceanographic measurements in the Southern Ocean and highlights the need for more monitoring in the region. CIRES and NOAA scientist David Munro and his NOAA colleague Colm Sweeney provided the Drake Passage Time-Series dataset for this study.

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