Southern Ocean soaks up more greenhouse gases

2015-09-10 21:05

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Oslo - The vast Southern Ocean around Antarctica has started to soak up more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in recent years, helping limit climate change, after signs its uptake had stalled, a study said on Thursday.

The Southern Ocean's natural absorption of carbon roughly doubled to 1.2bn tons in 2011 - equivalent to the European Union's annual man-made greenhouse gas emissions - from levels a decade earlier, it said.

"It's good news, for the moment" for efforts to slow man-made global warming, Nicolas Gruber, an author of the study at Swiss university ETH Zurich, told Reuters.

He said it was unclear how long the higher rate of absorption by the Southern Ocean, the strongest ocean region for soaking up carbon, would last.

"The Southern Ocean is much more variable than we thought," he said of the report by an international team in the journal Science and based on 2.6 million measurements by ships over three decades.

Changes in winds and temperatures had apparently driven the shifts, linked to high pressure systems in the atmosphere over the Atlantic part of the Southern Ocean and low pressure over the Pacific, it said.

Carbon dioxide is soaked up from the air and released by the Southern Ocean like a giant lung every year, but with a net uptake, the scientists said.

Thursday's findings were a surprise after previous studies found that the uptake of carbon dioxide by the Southern Ocean had stalled since the 1980s, the scientists said.

Absorb carbon dioxide

That had raised fears that the ocean was reaching a saturation point that could leave more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, where a UN panel of experts says they stoke warming, heatwaves, downpours and droughts.

Since 1870, the oceans have absorbed more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels, according to Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher of New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

The Southern Ocean alone has accounted for 40% of the uptake. "It is not yet clear how this region will respond to future changes in climate," she wrote in the journal Science.

Gruber also said higher levels of carbon dioxide in the water may be bad news for marine life because, once absorbed, some of it becomes carbonic acid.

A slow acidification of the oceans may undermine the ability of creatures such as crabs, lobsters and mussels to grow their protective shells and make them vulnerable to predators.

Read more on:    science journal  |  norway  |  antarctica  |  climate change  |  carbon dioxide
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.