National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2023

Biogenic carbon pool production maintains the Southern Ocean carbon sink

Huang, Y., A.J. Fassbender, and S.M. Bushinsky

Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 120(18), e2217909120, doi: 10.1073/pnas.2217909120, View article online at PNAS (external link) (2023)

Through biological activity, marine dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is transformed into different types of biogenic carbon available for export to the ocean interior, including particulate organic carbon (POC), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and particulate inorganic carbon (PIC). Each biogenic carbon pool has a different export efficiency that impacts the vertical ocean carbon gradient and drives natural air–sea carbon dioxide gas (CO2) exchange. In the Southern Ocean (SO), which presently accounts for ~40% of the anthropogenic ocean carbon sink, it is unclear how the production of each biogenic carbon pool contributes to the contemporary air–sea CO2 exchange. Based on 107 independent observations of the seasonal cycle from 63 biogeochemical profiling floats, we provide the basin-scale estimate of distinct biogenic carbon pool production. We find significant meridional variability with enhanced POC production in the subantarctic and polar Antarctic sectors and enhanced DOC production in the subtropical and sea-ice-dominated sectors. PIC production peaks between 47°S and 57°S near the “great calcite belt.” Relative to an abiotic SO, organic carbon production enhances CO2 uptake by 2.80 ± 0.28 Pg C y−1, while PIC production diminishes CO2 uptake by 0.27 ± 0.21 Pg C y−1. Without organic carbon production, the SO would be a CO2 source to the atmosphere. Our findings emphasize the importance of DOC and PIC production, in addition to the well-recognized role of POC production, in shaping the influence of carbon export on air–sea CO2 exchange.

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