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Plymouth Marine Laboratory lead study identifying variations in South Atlantic air-sea CO2 flux

8 September 2022

Plymouth Marine Laboratory has led on a study to identify the biological control of the interannual and long-term variations in South Atlantic air-sea CO2 flux. 
South Atlantic Ocean: image credit

Image credit

It has long been recognised that the ocean is the ultimate sink for carbon emissions, and that it plays a central role in mitigating climate change. To date, the ocean has absorbed at least 25% of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans.  

The CO2 flux between the atmosphere and the ocean is spatially and temporally variable however, and fully understanding the driving mechanisms behind this flux is key to assessing how the CO2 sink may change in the future. 

Plymouth Marine Laboratory worked alongside colleagues at the University of Exeter to publish research that determines the drivers of the CO2 flux in the South Atlantic Ocean. They used a 16-year time series decomposition analysis applied to satellite observations to determine the variability in the CO2 flux. 

Dr Daniel Ford, led the research as part of his PhD at PML supervised by Dr Gavin Tilstone, Bio-Optical Oceanographer in the EOSA group at PML, and Dr Vassilis Kitidis, in the Marine Biogeochemist group at PML.  

Dr Tilstone commented: 

“Linear trends in ΔpCO2 and the CO2 flux were calculated to identify key areas of change. Seasonally, changes in both the ΔpCO2 and CO2 flux were dominated by sea surface temperature and correlated with biological processes in the subpolar regions.” 

Dr Daniel Ford, whose thesis ‘Carbon from Space: Determining the biological controls on the ocean sink of CO2 from satellites, in the Atlantic and Southern oceans’ was successfully defended in August at Exeter University, added:  

“These results indicate that the plankton community play an important role in driving not only seasonal, but also interannual and longer-term variations in the air-sea CO2 flux. Therefore, the biological contribution to changes in the CO2 flux cannot be overlooked when scaling up to estimates of the global ocean carbon sink.” 

Access the full paper here >>