National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2011

The impact of the North Atlantic Oscillation on the uptake and accumulation of anthropogenic CO2 by North Atlantic Ocean mode waters

Levine, N.M., S.C. Doney, I. Lima, R. Wanninkhof, N.R. Bates, and R.A. Feely

Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 25(3), GB3022, doi: 10.1029/2010GB003892 (2011)

The North Atlantic Ocean accounts for about 25% of the global oceanic anthropogenic carbon sink. This basin experiences significant interannual variability primarily driven by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). A suite of biogeochemical model simulations is used to analyze the impact of interannual variability on the uptake and storage of contemporary and anthropogenic carbon (Canthro) in the North Atlantic Ocean. Greater winter mixing during positive NAO years results in increased mode water formation and subsequent increases in subtropical and subpolar Canthro inventories. Our analysis suggests that changes in mode water Canthro inventories are primarily due to changes in water mass volumes driven by variations in water mass transformation rates rather than local air-sea CO2 exchange. This suggests that a significant portion of anthropogenic carbon found in the ocean interior may be derived from surface waters advected into water formation regions rather than from local gas exchange. Therefore, changes in climate modes, such as the NAO, may alter the residence time of anthropogenic carbon in the ocean by altering the rate of water mass transformation. In addition, interannual variability in Canthro storage increases the difficulty of Canthro detection and attribution through hydrographic observations, which are limited by sparse sampling of subsurface waters in time and space.

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