We’re familiar with how climate change is impacting the ocean’s biology, from bleaching events that cause coral die-offs to algae blooms that choke coastal marine ecosystems, but it’s becoming clear that a warming planet is also impacting the physics of ocean circulation.
A team of scientists from the University of British Columbia, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), the French Institute for Ocean Science at the University of Brest, and the University of Southampton recently published the results of an analysis of North Atlantic Ocean water masses in the journal Nature Climate Change.
“The oceans play a vital role in buffering the Earth from climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and heat at the surface and transporting it in the deep ocean, where it is trapped for long periods,” said Sam Stevens, doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia and lead author on the study. “Studying changes in the structure of the world's oceans can provide us with vital insight into this process and how the ocean is responding to climate change.”
One particular layer in the North Atlantic Ocean, a water mass called the North Atlantic Subtropical Mode Water (or STMW), is very efficient at drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. It represents around 20% of the entire carbon dioxide uptake in the mid-latitude North Atlantic and is an important reservoir of nutrients for phytoplankton—the base of the marine food chain—at the surface of the ocean.
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