The control of atmospheric pCO 2 by ocean ventilation change: The effect of the oceanic storage of biogenic carbon

Eun Young Kwon, Jorge Louis Sarmiento, J. R. Toggweiler, Tim Devries

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A simple analytical framework is developed relating the atmospheric partial pressure of CO 2 to the globally-averaged concentrations of respired carbon (C soft) and dissolved carbonate (C carb) in the ocean. Assuming that the inventory of carbon is conserved in the ocean-atmosphere system (i.e. no seawater-sediment interactions), the resulting formula of ΔpCO 2/pCO 2 =-0.0053Δ C soft + 0.0034Δ C carb suggests that atmospheric pCO 2 would decrease by 5.3% and increase by 3.4% when C soft and C carb increase by 10 mol kg -1, respectively. Using this analytical framework along with a 3-D global ocean biogeochemistry model, we show that the response of atmospheric pCO 2 to changes in ocean circulation is rather modest because ∼30% of the change in atmospheric pCO 2 caused by the accumulation of respired carbon is countered by a concomitant accumulation of dissolved carbonate in deep waters. Among the suite of circulation models examined here, the largest reduction in atmospheric pCO 2 of 44-88 ppm occurs in a model where reduced overturning rates of both southern and northern sourced deep waters result in a four-fold increase in the Southern Ocean deep water ventilation age. On the other hand, when the ventilation rate of the southern-sourced water decreases, but the overturning rate of North Atlantic Deep Water increases, the resulting decrease in atmospheric pCO 2 is only 14-34 ppm. The large uncertainty ranges in atmospheric pCO 2 arise from uncertainty in how surface productivity responds to circulation change. Although the uncertainty is large, this study suggests that a synchronously reduced rate for the deep water formation in both hemispheres could lead to the large glacial reduction in atmospheric pCO 2 of 80-100 ppm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberGB3026
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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