Revelle revisited: Buffer factors that quantify the response of ocean chemistry to changes in DIC and alkalinity

Eric S. Egleston, Christopher L. Sabine, Francois M. M. Morel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

264 Scopus citations


We derive explicit expressions of the Revelle factor and several other buffer factors of interest to climate change scientists and those studying ocean acidification. These buffer factors quantify the sensitivity of CO2 and H+ concentrations ([CO2] and [H+]) and CaCO3 saturation () to changes in dissolved inorganic carbon concentration (DIC) and alkalinity (Alk). The explicit expressions of these buffer factors provide a convenient means to compare the degree of buffering of [CO2], [H+], and in different regions of the oceans and at different times in the future and to gain insight into the buffering mechanisms. All six buffer factors have roughly similar values, and all reach an absolute minimum when DIC = Alk (pH ∼ 7.5). Surface maps of the buffer factors generally show stronger buffering capacity in the subtropical gyres relative to the polar regions. As the dissolution of anthropogenic CO 2 increases the DIC of surface seawater over the next century, all the buffer factors will decrease, resulting in a much greater sensitivity to local variations in DIC and Alk. For example, diurnal and seasonal variations in pH and caused by photosynthesis and respiration will be greatly amplified. Buffer factors provide convenient means to quantify the effect that changes in DIC and Alk have on seawater chemistry. They should also help illuminate the role that various physical and biological processes have in determining the oceanic response to an increase in atmospheric CO2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberGB1002
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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