Historical and future trends in ocean climate and biogeochemistry

Changing atmospheric composition due to human activities, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel burning, is already impacting ocean circulation, biogeochemistry, and ecology, and model projections indicate that observed trends will continue or even accelerate over this century. Elevated atmospheric CO2 alters Earth’s radiative balance, leading to global-scale warming and climate change. The ocean stores the majority of resulting anomalous heat, which in turn drives other physical, chemical, and biological impacts. Sea surface warming and increased ocean vertical stratification are projected to reduce global-integrated primary production and export flux as well as to lower subsurface dissolved oxygen concentrations. Upper trophic levels will be affected both directly by warming and indirectly from changes in productivity and expanding low oxygen zones. The ocean also absorbs roughly one-quarter of present-day anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The resulting changes in seawater chemistry, termed ocean acidification, include declining pH and saturation state for calcium carbon minerals that may have widespread impacts on many marine organisms. Climate warming will likely slow ocean CO2 uptake but is not expected to significantly reduce upper ocean acidification. Improving the accuracy of future model projections requires better observational constraints on current rates of ocean change and a better understanding of the mechanisms controlling key physical and biogeochemical processes.

Doney S. C., Bopp L. & Long M. C., 2014. Historical and future trends in ocean climate and biogeochemistry. Oceanography 27(1):108–119. Article.

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