Keele University and the University of Exeter researchers have published a new study that could lead to improved climate change projection models and an alternative means to control atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
Carbon sink processes during the Last Ice Age
The international experts investigated the role of Southern Ocean sea ice around Antarctica in regulating carbon dioxide levels during times of past climate change. Using atmospheric CO2 levels data from the Last Ice Age, they were able to advance new carbon sink notions involving the Southern Ocean, which occupies 14% of the earth’s surface.
[The Southern Ocean] has captured around half of all human-related carbon that has entered the ocean to date, and is therefore crucial for regulating carbon dioxide levels resulting from human activity.Professor Chris Fogwill, Keele University
Notably, the interdisciplinary research team of scientists found:
- New ways of investigating the biogeochemical processes defining the Southern Ocean’s effectiveness as a carbon sink. These complex processes involve carbon-rich water mass upwelling, surface primary productivity, and remineralization at depth. Using techniques rooted in cell biology, the experts collected and analyzed millennia-old tiny frozen particles and cells. The investigation helped better understand the Southern Ocean’s atmospheric CO2 sequestration around 15,000 to 18,000 years ago.
- Evidence of enhanced carbon capture as a result of boosted marine life numbers and diversity due to the Antarctic’s deglacial evolution. This, in turn, pulled atmospheric CO2 for storage in the deep ocean. These insights reinforce previous findings regarding the Southern Ocean’s crucial role in capturing large amounts of human-related carbon through time.
- Data revealing this plateauing of atmospheric CO2 increase coincided with extensive sea ice formation across the Southern Ocean. Indeed, sea ice built up extensively during the Antarctic Cold Reversal, a pronounced cold phase across the Southern Ocean, but melted promptly as the world warmed up in the summer.
Published in the Nature Geoscience journal, the outcomes of this investigation provide exciting opportunities for further research using organic analyses to understand nature’s role in regulating human-related carbon. It could also spur investments in alternative technologies meant to fend off potentially adverse climate change effects.
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