Southern ocean absorbing more carbon than ever – but it can’t last forever

Scientists have recently established that the Southern ocean is absorbing high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), however they are now worried that this news may not be as good as first thought.

Carbon dioxide is one of the biggest culprits of ocean acidification. Scientists are concerned that increased carbon dioxide absorption in the Southern ocean could be harmful to marine life in the are – particularly shellfish, as acidification can significantly affects its ability to grow a protective shell, writes Nature World Report.

The Southern ocean has absorbed as much as one quarter of the total CO2 in the world since the start of the industrial revolution. And experts cannot guarantee that the ocean will be able to absorb carbon indefinitely. In 2011 the uptake of carbon dioxide increased to 1.2 billion tonnes, doubling figures from the previous year.

“One has to recognize that despite this remarkable increase in the Southern ocean carbon sink, emissions have gone up even more. A strong carbon sink in the Southern ocean helps to mitigate climate change for the moment, as otherwise even more CO2 would have stayed in the atmosphere, but we cannot conclude that this will continue for ever,” Prof Nicolas Gruber, lead author and environmental physicist, told the Guardian.

Scientists currently believe that the Southern oceans’ increased ability to sink carbon dioxide is due to changes in winds and temperature. The increase amounts to the entire CO2 output of the European Union, writes Nature World Report.

“The seas around Antarctica absorb significantly more CO2 than they release. And importantly, they remove a large part of the CO2 that is put into the atmosphere by human activities such as burning fossil fuels,” Co-author Dorothee Bakker, of the University of East Anglia said in a press release.

Scientists estimate that the world’s oceans currently absorb 30-50% of the CO2 produced by the burning of fossil fuel. If the oceans did not perform this task, atmospheric CO2 levels would currently measure around 500-600 parts per million by volume, compared to current levels of 355 ppmv.

Mary Nichols, Design & Trend Contributor, 13 September 2015. Article.

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