Carbon cycling in the North American coastal ocean: a synthesis

A quantification of carbon fluxes in the coastal ocean and across its boundaries, specifically the air-sea, land-to-coastal-ocean and coastal-to-open-ocean interfaces, is important for assessing the current state and projecting future trends in ocean carbon uptake and coastal ocean acidification, but is currently a missing component of global carbon budgeting. This synthesis reviews recent progress in characterizing these carbon fluxes with focus on the North American coastal ocean. Several observing networks and high-resolution regional models are now available. Recent efforts have focused primarily on quantifying net air-sea exchange of carbon dioxide (CO2). Some studies have estimated other key fluxes, such as the exchange of organic and inorganic carbon between shelves and the open ocean. Available estimates of air-sea CO2 flux, informed by more than a decade of observations, indicate that the North American margins act as a net sink for atmospheric CO2. This net uptake is driven primarily by the high-latitude regions. The estimated magnitude of the net flux is 160±80TgC/y for the North American Exclusive Economic Zone, a number that is not well constrained. The increasing concentration of inorganic carbon in coastal and open-ocean waters leads to ocean acidification. As a result conditions favouring dissolution of calcium carbonate occur regularly in subsurface coastal waters in the Arctic, which are naturally prone to low pH, and the North Pacific, where upwelling of deep, carbon-rich waters has intensified and, in combination with the uptake of anthropogenic carbon, leads to low seawater pH and aragonite saturation states during the upwelling season. Expanded monitoring and extension of existing model capabilities are required to provide more reliable coastal carbon budgets, projections of future states of the coastal ocean, and quantification of anthropogenic carbon contributions.

Fennel K., Alin S., Barbero L., Evans W., Bourgeois T., Cooley S., Dunne J., Feely R. A., Hernandez-Ayon J. M., Hu X., Lohrenz S., Muller-Karger F., Najjar R., Robbins L., Shadwick E., Siedlecki S., Steiner N., Sutton A., Turk D., Vlahos P. & Wang Z. A., 2018. Carbon cycling in the North American coastal ocean: a synthesis. Biogeosciences Discussions. Article.

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