Measuring Open Ocean Air to Sea Carbon Exchange

The quest to understand the interactions between our planet’s oceans and its environment is a continuing one, fraught with inexplicable evidence and hidden meanings. A team led by scientists from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, have measured the air to sea exchange of carbon dioxide in the open ocean at higher wind speeds than ever before.

For a long time, accurately measuring the transfer has been difficult and dependent upon numerous factors, especially over a longer period of time as is needed for accurate scientific readings.

“Evaluating the factors influencing the transfer of gases such as carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the ocean is needed for a full understanding of Earth’s climate system,” explained researcher John Prytherch of the National Oceanography Centre.

Prytherch and his colleagues measured carbon dioxide fluxes in the North Atlantic during the High Wind Air-Sea Exchanges (HiWASE) experiment that ran between September of 2006 and December of 2009. Using an automated system known as Autoflux installed upon the Norwegian weather ship Polarfront, the researchers made nearly 4,000 flux measurements, each one lasting 20 minutes, as well as other variables.

“Our results include measurements made at higher mean wind speeds than previously published for the open ocean,” said Prytherch: “Filling this knowledge gap is important because high wind speeds such as those experienced by the North Atlantic are expected to have a large effect on the global air-sea flux of carbon dioxide.”

There was a high measure of variability between individual measurements. However, the researchers were still able to find that the formation of bubbles in the whitecaps of breaking waves may increase the transfer of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at higher wind speeds.

“Our results support the hypothesis that bubbles in whitecaps play a significant role in the global exchange of carbon dioxide and other climatically important gases between the oceans and the atmosphere,” said Prytherch.

Source: National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Image Source: Scottseye

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