Impact of oceanic circulation on biological carbon storage in the ocean and atmospheric pCO2

I. Marinov, A. Gnanadesikan, Jorge Louis Sarmiento, J. R. Toggweiler, M. Follows, B. K. Mignone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


We use both theory and ocean biogeochemistry models to examine the role of the soft-tissue biological pump in controlling atmospheric CO2. We demonstrate that atmospheric CO2 can be simply related to the amount of inorganic carbon stored in the ocean by the soft-tissue pump, which we term (OCSsoft). OCSsoft is linearly related to the inventory of remineralized nutrient, which in turn is just the total nutrient inventory minus the preformed nutrient inventory. In a system where total nutrient is conserved, atmospheric CO2 can thus be simply related to the global inventory of preformed nutrient. Previous model simulations have explored how changes in the surface ' concentration of nutrients in deepwater formation regions change the global preformed nutrient inventory. We show that changes in physical forcing such as winds, vertical mixing, and lateral mixing can shift the balance of deepwater formation between the North Atlantic (where preformed nutrients are low) and the Southern Ocean (where they are high). Such changes in physical forcing can thus drive large changes in atmospheric CO2, even with minimal changes in surface nutrient concentration. If Southern Ocean deepwater formation strengthens, the preformed nutrient inventory and thus atmospheric CO2 increase. An important consequence of these new insights is that the relationship between surface nutrient concentrations, biological export production, and atmospheric CO2 is more complex than previously predicted. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we show that OCSsoft can increase and atmospheric CO2 decrease, while surface nutrients show minimal change and export production decreases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberGB3007
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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