National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2022

Summer surface CO2 dynamics on the Bering Sea and eastern Chukchi Sea shelves from 1989 to 2019

Wang, H., P. Lin, R.S. Pickart, and J.N. Cross

J. Geophys. Res., 127(1), e2021JC017424, doi: 10.1029/2021JC017424, View online (2022)

By compiling boreal summer (June to October) CO2 measurements from 1989 to 2019 on the Bering and eastern Chukchi Sea shelves, we find that the study areas act as a CO2 sink except when impacted by river runoff and wind-driven upwelling. The CO2 system in this area is seasonally dominated by the biological pump especially in the northern Bering Sea and near Hanna Shoal, while wind-driven upwelling of CO2-rich bottom water can cause episodic outgassing. Seasonal surface ΔfCO2 (oceanic fCO2 – air fCO2) is dominantly driven by temperature only during periods of weak CO2 outgassing in shallow nearshore areas. However, after comparing the mean summer ΔfCO2 during the periods of 1989–2013 and 2014–2019, we suggest that temperature does drive long-term, multi-decadal patterns in ΔfCO2. In the northern Chukchi Sea, rapid warming concurrent with reduced seasonal sea-ice persistence caused the regional summer CO2 sink to decrease. By contrast, increasing primary productivity caused the regional summer CO2 sink on the Bering Sea shelf to increase over time. While additional time series are needed to confirm the seasonal and annual trajectory of CO2 changes and ocean acidification in these dynamic and spatially complex ecosystems, this study provides a meaningful mechanistic analysis of recent changes in inorganic carbonate chemistry. As high-resolution time series of inorganic carbonate parameters lengthen and short-term variations are better constrained in the coming decades, we will have stronger confidence in assessing the mechanisms contributing to long-term changes in the source/sink status of regional sub-Arctic seas.

Plain Language Summary. The ocean performs an essential function for the planet by removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, providing an important limit on climate change and global warming. Hence it is critical to understand how much CO2 can be absorbed by the ocean surface in different regions and at different times of the year. On the Bering and Chukchi Sea shelves, ocean plants and temperature control how much CO2 can be absorbed by the ocean, especially during summer (June to October), and both are changing as our climate warms. Using 30 years of field data, we find that, on average, ocean plants help take up a substantial amount of CO2 on the shelves during summer. Over time, ocean plants on the Bering Sea shelf have been taking up more and more CO2 each summer; however, on the Chukchi Sea shelf, warming ocean temperatures have resulted in less CO2 uptake each summer. While our study shows that climate change can impact CO2 uptake by changing ocean temperatures and ocean plant activity, it is unclear if these changes are permanent or temporary. More data and research are essential to better understand these trends.

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