Environment Ocean accountants balance the carbon books

Ocean accountants balance the carbon books

Figuring out how the oceans soak up atmospheric carbon hasn’t been plain sailing.

But now, researchers at the University of Tasmania think they finally have answers.

“We can, for the first time, balance the books and fully account for ocean carbon storage,” says study leader Professor Philip Boyd.

The oceans are known to mop up carbon from the atmosphere, which partially limits the impact of human carbon emissions on the climate.

However, there seems to be about twice as much carbon stored in the deep ocean than we initially expected.

To explain this, the study team reviewed several different carbon storage processes.

They looked at how certain bacteria and other microbes on the ocean surface consume carbon, then carry it to the sea floor when they die and sink. They also considered how carbon is released into the deep ocean in the form of marine creatures’ poo.

Finally, they examined the role of physical processes like ocean eddies in transporting carbon-rich particles to the sea floor.

Putting all these mechanisms together, the team was able to come up with a complete picture of carbon storage in the deep ocean.

“Our study goes a long way to finally solving one of the real puzzles that oceanographers have grappled with for a number of years,” Professor Boyd says.

The findings will help us to build more accurate climate models, he says.

“This breakthrough is vital in allowing us to establish a baseline against which we can measure and understand future changes in ocean carbon and its effects on the global climate.”

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