Ocean’s heat cycle shows that atmospheric carbon may be headed elsewhere

June 19, 2018

A Princeton study in the journal Nature Geoscience examined the global carbon cycle and found that existing studies may have misgauged how carbon is distributed around the world, particularly between the northern and southern hemispheres. The results could change projections of how, when and where the currently massive levels of atmospheric carbon will result in environmental changes such as ocean acidification.

By re-examining ocean circulations and considering the carbon-moving power of rivers, the study’s authors suggest that as much as 40% of the world’s atmospheric carbon absorbed by land needs to be reallocated from existing estimates. In particular, the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica and forests in the northern hemisphere — while still substantial absorbers or “sinks” of carbon — may not take up as much as scientists have figured.

As humans continue to pump the atmosphere with carbon, it’s crucial for scientists to understand how and where the planet absorbs and naturally emits carbon.

“The carbon story we got is more consistent with what people have observed on the ground,” said first author Laure Resplandy, an assistant professor of geosciences and the High Meadows Environmental Institute.

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