NASA-Supported Study Confirms Importance of Southern Ocean for Absorbing CO2


Many factors affect the flux of carbon into and out of Earth’s oceans, including ocean surface winds.

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.

Recent research had raised uncertainty about just how much atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) these icy waters absorb. Those studies relied on measurements of ocean acidity – which increases when ocean water absorbs CO2 – taken by instruments that float in the ocean.

The new study, published in Science, used aircraft observations of CO2 to show that the Southern Ocean is a stronger carbon sink than previously thought, playing a significant role in mitigating the impact of greenhouse gases. Aircraft observations were collected over nearly a decade from 2009 to 2018 during three field experiments, including from NASA’s Atmospheric Tomography Mission (ATom) in 2016.

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