We so often read articles of the ocean threatened by pollution, over-fishing and climate change, so here’s a report that brings us some much appreciated good news. Is the ocean more resilient to climate change than we had thought?
Here’s the easy part, the ocean, as one of the most important influences on the world’s climate, needs to be included in any predictions of future climate change. However, the ocean is also very complex and is changing constantly, so a group of scientists at the Institute for Marine Studies in Tasmania took a fresh look at how the ocean absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere and stores that carbon.
Stability in the Ocean despite Climate Change?
Here’s where it gets complicated. As explained in an article by Andrew Rhodes in phys.org, Pearse Buchanan and his team “integrated new, dynamic ways of representing marine ecosystem processes in ocean models.”
In applying these new tools they found that the marine ecosystem acts to “buffer” the ocean, helping it to “absorb and store carbon at similar rates regardless of changes in the physical properties of the ocean including temperature, salinity and circulation.” Mainly this buffering is due to the ocean’s large volume and surface area, making “the ocean’s biogeochemical processes…the main controls that determine the absorption levels of CO2 from the atmosphere.”
Phytoplankkton and the Biological Pump
For example, “marine phytoplankton absorb carbon in the same way as trees on land, and when phytoplankton die and sink into the deep ocean, the carbon they contain is locked away for thousands of years. This process is known as the biological pump. Many older models account for a very limited number of ways that the biological pump can be affected by physical and chemical properties, which may be affected by climate change. But the biological pump is actually made up of many complex processes, each with its own sensitivities to environmental conditions.” (photo – phytoplankton, MIT Darwin Project)
Buchanan added. “By improving how we simulate the biological pump in the ocean, we both improve the model and reveal this unexpected resilience, whereby global-scale changes to the physical properties of the ocean have a smaller effect on the biological pump. The added resilience of the biological pump allows the ocean to remain a strong sink of atmospheric CO2 despite warming and increasing upper ocean stratification.”
See our article, Can Seaweed Reduce Ocean Acidification? that describes the “buffering” effect of seaweed and sea grass on ocean acidification along the Pacific Coast of North America and how that has proved beneficial to the shellfish industry. This article is positive and let’s hope that their models are right on, but it does not in any way suggest that we are off the hook for the serious implications of climate change, all you need do is read the related articles below to get a perspective on the threats looming.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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