Latest study finds Southern Ocean of vital importance in absorbing carbon from atmosphere

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(KXAN) — New research found that the Southern Ocean absorbs a lot more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases; more than they initially thought. The Southern Ocean is the ocean body of saltwater located around Antarctica. According to a recent report from NASA, this reaffirms the findings that the ocean plays a major role as a carbon sink. This in return will continue to mitigate some of the impacts of the greenhouse gasses being emitted by humans.

What is a carbon sink?

A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. Examples include plants, the ocean and soil.

Ocean acidification

Scientists studied the acidity of the Southern Ocean which is strongly linked to the amount of carbon it is absorbing. Ocean acidification refers to a reduction in the pH of the water. Higher ocean acidity means higher amounts of carbon in the water. These measurements were able to be recorded and logged by instruments floating in water throughout the Southern Ocean.

Aircraft observations

Data analyzing the atmosphere was also recorded by aircraft over the course of a decade during three field experiments. Aircrafts recorded the amount of carbon at various levels or heights within the atmosphere. This is also referred to as a vertical profile. What they found was that carbon concentrations grew higher when they ascended in height. But when they got closer to the surface or ocean they found DECREASING amounts of carbon suggesting that carbon was being absorbed by the ocean. They found that the Southern Ocean also absorbs significantly more carbon in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months than it releases in the winter months.

How carbon capturing works

Cold water rises from the deep ocean in a process called upwelling, a common phenomenon that occurs in oceans. (This is the process that causes La Nina in the equatorial Pacific.) This cold water now has an abundance of nutrients which increases the Phytoplankton organism population. The photosynthesis process of these organisms is what captures carbon from the atmosphere which later sinks back under the ocean which in return stores the carbon.

According to the research, “measurements of CO2 and other ocean properties suggest that 40% of the human-produced CO2 in the ocean, worldwide, was originally absorbed from the atmosphere into the Southern Ocean, making it one of the most important carbon sinks on our planet.”

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