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Oceans’ Ability To Absorb CO2 May Be Diminishing, New Study Says

A study of the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans from 1765 to the present shows that as humanity pumps more CO2 into the atmosphere, the capacity of the world’s oceans to continue absorbing carbon appears to be decreasing. Researchers from Columbia University and NASA estimate that since 2000, the proportion of fossil-fuel emissions absorbed by the oceans may have declined by as much as 10 percent. In effect, researchers say that industrial activity has been producing so much C02 since 1950 that the oceans are slowly becoming saturated with the gas. “The more carbon dioxide you put in, the more acidic the ocean becomes, reducing its ability to hold CO2,” said lead researcher Samar Khatiwala, an oceanographer at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The study, published in the journal Nature, estimated that the oceans currently hold about 150 tons of industrial carbon — a third more than in the 1990s. The researchers used data on ocean chemistry, salinity, temperature, and other measures to calculate the amount of industrial carbon in the ocean for the past 245 years. The study showed that the land may now being absorbing more carbon than it is producing, perhaps because higher atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing the rate of photosynthesis.

This video produced by Columbia University’s Earth Institute
shows concentrations of industrially produced CO2 increasing
in the world’s oceans over the past 2 1/2 centuries.

This piece originally appeared in Yale Environment 360.

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Yes, going back to the original article, also misquoted in Yale Environment, it is 150 Billion tons, not 150 tons of carbon.

Posted by: Henry Lowengard on 20 Nov 09

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Posted by: Bobbie Smith on 21 Nov 09

I'm one of the confused people on this subject of CO2 admissions.

I haven't looked at World Changing (a website that I love) to see if you've posted the contrary article to this one, the research of Dr. Wolfgang Knorr. And this minute, there's another article out of the same research group, title: "Mysteriously Warm Times in Antarctica" via Science Daily.

Many ordinary citizens like me don't know what to believe right now, and few science journalists are devoted to sorting out the conflicting data. Perhaps in Copenhagen.

Posted by: Anne of Carversville on 22 Nov 09

From my reading of the two articles you've posted, they don't necessarily seem contradictory at all, the journalism has just emphasized different aspects.

"The study showed that the land may now being absorbing more carbon than it is producing, perhaps because higher atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing the rate of photosynthesis."

If land masses are absorbing more carbon than before, oceans could still be absorbing less while maintaining something of an equilibrium in the total atmospheric fraction (as reported in the Science Daily article).

Ocean acidification still seems like a pretty bad thing on the whole.

Posted by: Androo on 22 Nov 09

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