National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2011

Roles of marginal seas in absorbing and storing fossil fuel CO2

Lee, K., C.L. Sabine, T. Tanhua, T.-W. Kim, R.A. Feely, and H.-C. Kim

Energy Environ. Sci., 4(4), 1133–1146, doi: 10.1039/C0EE00663G (2011)

We review data on the absorption of anthropogenic CO2 by Northern Hemisphere marginal seas (Arctic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Sea of Okhotsk, and East/Japan Sea) and its transport to adjacent major basins, and consider the susceptibility to recent climatic change of key factors that influence CO2 uptake by these marginal seas. Dynamic overturning circulation is a common feature of these seas, and this effectively absorbs anthropogenic CO2 and transports it from the surface to the interior of the basins. Amongst these seas only the East/Japan Sea has no outflow of intermediate and deep water (containing anthropogenic CO2) to an adjacent major basin; the others are known to be significant sources of intermediate and deep water to the open ocean. Consequently, only the East/Japan Sea retains all the anthropogenic CO2 absorbed during the anthropocene. Investigations of the properties of the water column in these seas have revealed a consistent trend of waning water column ventilation over time, probably because of changes in local atmospheric forcing. This weakening ventilation has resulted in a decrease in transport of anthropogenic CO2 from the surface to the interior of the basins, and to the adjacent open ocean. Ongoing measurements of anthropogenic CO2, other gases and hydrographic parameters in these key marginal seas will provide information on changes in global oceanic CO2 uptake associated with the predicted increasing atmospheric CO2 and future global climate change. We also review the roles of other marginal seas with no active overturning circulation systems in absorbing and storing anthropogenic CO2. The absence of overturning circulation enables anthropogenic CO2 to penetrate only into shallowdepths, resulting in less accumulation of anthropogenic CO2 in these basins. As a consequence of their proximity to populated continents, these marginal seas are particularly vulnerable to human-induced perturbations. Maintaining observation programs will make it possible to assess the effects of human-induced changes on the capacity of these seas to uptake and store anthropogenic CO2.

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