OCB Newsletter: Improving model predictions of ocean biogeochemistry

The global cycles of the major biologically active elements are strongly shaped by physical climate. In turn, the primary greenhouse gases are largely regulated by these elemental cycles, giving rise to a variety of potential long-term feedbacks between biogeochemistry and climate. The inclusion of these processes and feedbacks has driven the evolution of climate models to more complex Earth System models. The ability to test the resulting predictions for biogeochemical cycles remains limited by the time scales involved, which are typically longer than the observational record. Climate variability provides a natural laboratory to test the understanding of critical biogeochemical processes and their representation in models. This situation closely parallels that of the physical climate system, where methods for testing and quantifying feedbacks have been an active area of research, and provide a useful template for extension to biogeochemistry and the carbon cycle.

U.S. CLIVAR recently convened a joint meeting with Ocean Carbon and Biogeochemistry (OCB) to explore these themes and to identify areas of common interest. The presentations and discussions spanned a wide range of processes and scales from plankton metabolism to meridional overturning with regional foci from the North Atlantic to the Southern Ocean. Here I will summarize two case studies in which changes in ocean biogeochemistry have been linked to climate variability, and illustrate how methods that combine models and data might be used to better constrain the long-term changes in these elemental cycles currently being predicted by IPCC class models. Both examples are drawn from the tropical Pacific, where the rapidly evolving understanding of physical climate variability provides a solid foundation on which to improve our understanding of the links to biogeochemical cycles.

Curtis Deutsch (UCLA), OCB Newsletter, Fall 2011. pp 1-4.  Newsletter and full article.

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