National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2013

Changes in deep-water CO2 concentrations over the last several decades determined from discrete pCO2 measurements

Wanninkhof, R., G.-H. Park, T. Takahashi, R.A. Feely, J.L. Bullister, and S.C. Doney

Deep-Sea Res. I, 74, 48–63, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr.2012.12.005 (2013)

Detection and attribution of hydrographic and biogeochemical changes in the deep ocean are challenging due to the small magnitude of their signals and to limitations in the accuracy of available data. However, there are indications that anthropogenic and climate change signals are starting to manifest at depth. The deep ocean below 2000 m comprises about 50% of the total ocean volume, and changes in the deep ocean should be followed over time to accurately assess the partitioning of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) between the ocean, terrestrial biosphere, and atmosphere. Here we determine the changes in the interior deep-water inorganic carbon content by a novel means that uses the partial pressure of CO2 measured at 20 °C, pCO2(20), along three meridional transects in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. These changes are measured on decadal time scales using observations from the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE)/World Hydrographic Program (WHP) of the 1980s and 1990s and the CLIVAR/CO2 Repeat Hydrography Program of the past decade. The pCO2(20) values show a consistent increase in deep water over the time period. Changes in total dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) content in the deep interior are not significant or consistent, as most of the signal is below the level of analytical uncertainty. Using an approximate relationship between pCO2(20) and DIC change, we infer DIC changes that are at the margin of detectability. However, when integrated on the basin scale, the increases range from 8–40% of the total specific water column changes over the past several decades. Patterns in chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), along with output from an ocean model, suggest that the changes in pCO2(20) and DIC are of anthropogenic origin.

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