National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1999

Low interannual variability in recent oceanic uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide

Lee, K., R. Wanninkhof, T. Takahashi, S.C. Doney, and R.A. Feely

Nature, 396(6707), 155–159, doi: 10.1038/24139 (1998)

An improved understanding of the partitioning of carbon between the atmosphere, terrestrial biosphere, and ocean allows for more accurate predictions of future atmospheric CO2 concentrations under various fossil-fuel CO2-emission scenarios. One of the more poorly quantified relevant processes is the interannual variability in the uptake of fossil-fuel CO2 from the atmosphere by the terrestrial biosphere and ocean. Existing estimates, based on atmospheric measurements, indicate that the oceanic variability is large. Here we estimate the interannual variability in global net air-sea CO2 flux using changes in the observed wind speeds and the partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) in surface sea water and the overlying air. Changes in seawater pCO2 are deduced from interannual anomalies in sea surface temperature and the regionally and seasonally varying temperature-dependence of seawater pCO2, assuming that variations in sea surface temperature reflect seawater pCO2 changes caused by thermodynamics, biological processes and water mixing. The calculated interannual variability in oceanic CO2 uptake of 0.4 Gt C yr−1 (2σ) is much less than that inferred from the analysis of atmospheric measurements. Our results suggest that variable sequestration of carbon by the terrestrial biosphere is the main cause of observed year-to-year variations in the rate of atmospheric CO2 accumulation.

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