Seas Absorb More Carbon Than Expected, Study Reveals

The oceans might be taking on more than they should to avoid human activity pollution.
Deniz Yildiran
The photo credit line may appear like thisfatido/iStock

Earth pollution is real. We all know that. And we also know that it is even getting worse, as it was proved again by measuring the amount of carbon absorbed by the oceans.

It is not only the oceans though, vegetations do the same. The absorbed carbon by nature called carbon-sink is what exactly increases in the ocean, explains ESA. There was also this "biological carbon pump", namely phytoplanktons to help absorb more carbon, however, the situation seems even worse despite this effective biological weapon. 

The research was published in Nature Communications.


There is already a huge data collection of Surface Ocean CO₂ Atlas (SOCAT), with 28 million international observations of the oceans and coastal seas between the years of 1957 and 2020. However, observing the amount is not that easy. The measurements are made a few meters below the oceans' surface instead of the right place -- that is the surface. 

It seems that the different carbon levels are measured in different depths. And the waters' ability to absorb carbon depends on the temperature differences. Hence NOAA satellites and data obtained from ESA and NASA are involved to solve the issue. 

“Previous studies have ignored the small temperature differences between the surface of the ocean and the sampling depth, but we know that this has a significant impact on how carbon is held by the oceans in terms of salinity, solubility, stability, and so on,” explains Andrew Watson from the University of Exeter, U.K., lead author of the new study. “But satellites can measure the temperature more or less exactly at the ocean surface – and when we do this, we find it makes a big difference.”

Doubles the amount 

The results were a bit staggering. Satellite corrections of the data from SOCAT, between 1992 and 2018, showed that the temperature differences between the surface and a few meters below proved a "higher ocean uptake of carbon dioxide" than it was expected. 

The corrections indicated an amount of up to 0.9 Gigatonnes of carbon per year. And that is two times more than the first amount estimated. 

It is amazing how nature operates such a mechanism balancing the carbon amount in the atmosphere. However, it is still the oceans, the part of nature, picking up the cost of human activity. 

As the carbon levels rise, the oceans become more acidic, adds ESA. You would just predict that right, it harms the ecosystem within the salty waters. 


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