Response of the ocean natural carbon storage to projected twenty-first-century climate change

Raffaele Bernardello, Irina Marinov, Jaime B. Palter, Jorge Louis Sarmiento, Eric D. Galbraith, Richard D. Slater

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42 Scopus citations


The separate impacts of wind stress, buoyancy fluxes, and CO2 solubility on the oceanic storage of natural carbon are assessed in an ensemble of twentieth- to twenty-first-century simulations, using a coupled atmosphere-ocean-carbon cycle model. Time-varying perturbations for surface wind stress, temperature, and salinity are calculated from the difference between climate change and preindustrial control simulations, and are imposed on the ocean in separate simulations. The response of the natural carbon storage to each perturbation is assessed with novel prognostic biogeochemical tracers,which can explicitly decompose dissolved inorganic carbon into biological, preformed, equilibrium, and disequilibriumcomponents. Strong responses of these components to changes in buoyancy and winds are seen at high latitudes, reflecting the critical role of intermediate and deep waters. Overall, circulation-driven changes in carbon storage are mainly due to changes in buoyancy fluxes, with wind-driven changes playing an opposite but smaller role. Results suggest that climate-driven perturbations to the ocean natural carbon cycle will contribute 20 Pg C to the reduction of the ocean accumulated total carbon uptake over the period 1860-2100. This reflects a strong compensation between a buildup of remineralized organic matter associated with reduced deep-water formation (+96Pg C) and a decrease of preformed carbon (-116 Pg C). The latter is due to a warming-induced decrease in CO2 solubility (-52 Pg C) and a circulation-induced decrease in disequilibrium carbon storage (-64Pg C). Climate change gives rise to a large spatial redistribution of ocean carbon, with increasing concentrations at high latitudes and stronger vertical gradients at low latitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2033-2053
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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