National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2009

Inventory changes in anthropogenic carbon from 1997–2003 in the Atlantic Ocean between 20°S and 65°N

Steinfeldt, R., M. Rhein, J.L. Bullister, and T. Tanhua

Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 23, GB3010, doi: 10.1029/2008GB003311 (2009)

The oceans absorb and store a significant portion of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, but large uncertainties remain in the quantification of this sink. An improved assessment of the present and future oceanic carbon sink is therefore necessary to provide recommendations for long-term global carbon cycle and climate policies. The formation of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) is a unique fast track for transporting anthropogenic CO2 into the ocean's interior, making the deep waters rich in anthropogenic carbon. Thus the Atlantic is presently estimated to hold 38% of the oceanic anthropogenic CO2 inventory, although its volume makes up only 25% of the world ocean. Here we analyze the inventory change of anthropogenic CO2 in the Atlantic between 1997 and 2003 and its relationship to NADW formation. For the whole region between 20°S and 65°N the inventory amounts to 32.5 ± 9.5 Petagram carbon (Pg C) in 1997 and increases up to 36.0 ± 10.5 Pg C in 2003. This result is quite similar to earlier studies. Moreover, the overall increase of anthropogenic carbon is in close agreement with the expected change due to rising atmospheric CO2 levels of 1.69% a−1. On the other hand, when considering the subpolar region only, the results demonstrate that the recent weakening in the formation of Labrador Sea Water, a component of NADW, has already led to a decrease of the anthropogenic carbon inventory in this water mass. As a consequence, the overall inventory for the total water column in the western subpolar North Atlantic increased only by 2% between 1997 and 2003, much less than the 11% that would be expected from the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

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