The North Pacific accounts for ~25% of the global ocean’s uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. However, the relative importance of the biological pump vs. physical circulation in driving ocean uptake of CO2 remains poorly understood.
In a recent study, Palevsky and Quay (2017) used geochemical measurements collected on sixteen container ship transects between Hong Kong and Long Beach, CA to evaluate the drivers of CO2 uptake across 8,000 kilometers in the North Pacific basin over the full annual cycle. In the eastern North Pacific, biologically-driven export of organic carbon below the winter ventilation depth fully offsets the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere. However, in the Kuroshio region of the western North Pacific, which has a deep winter mixed layer, the majority of the organic carbon exported during the productive summer season is subsequently respired and ventilated back to the atmosphere in winter. Subsequently, biologically-driven export offsets only a small fraction of the CO2 uptake by the ocean and, instead, physical transport is the dominant process removing inorganic carbon from the region.
We further show that that mechanistic coupling between biological carbon export and ocean uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere is sensitive to the seasonal timing of biological export and ventilation, as well as the magnitude of export. Future studies therefore need to measure biological carbon export and ventilation throughout the full annual cycle in order to better understand controls on regional variations in ocean CO2 uptake rates and future changes in these rates.
Hilary I. Palevsky (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Paul D. Quay (University of Washington)