Seasonal asymmetry in the evolution of surface ocean pCO2 and pH thermodynamic drivers and the influence on sea‐air CO2 flux

It has become clear that anthropogenic carbon invasion into the surface ocean drives changes in the seasonal cycles of carbon dioxide partial pressure (pCO2) and pH. However, it is not yet known whether the resulting sea‐air CO2 fluxes are symmetric in their seasonal expression. Here we consider a novel application of observational constraints and modeling inferences to test the hypothesis that changes in the ocean’s Revelle Factor facilitate a seasonally asymmetric response in pCO2 and the sea‐air CO2 flux. We use an analytical framework that builds on observed sea surface pCO2 variability for the modern era and incorporates transient dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) concentrations from an Earth system model. Our findings reveal asymmetric amplification of pCO2 and pH seasonal cycles by a factor of two (or more) above pre‐industrial levels under RCP8.5. These changes are significantly larger than observed modes of interannual variability and are relevant to climate feedbacks associated with Revelle Factor perturbations. Notably, this response occurs in the absence of changes to the seasonal cycle amplitudes of DIC, total alkalinity, salinity, and temperature, indicating that significant alteration of surface pCO2 can occur without modifying the physical or biological ocean state. This result challenges the historical paradigm that if the same amount of carbon and nutrients is entrained and subsequently exported, there is no impact on anthropogenic carbon uptake. Anticipation of seasonal asymmetries in the sea surface pCO2 and CO2 flux response to ocean carbon uptake over the 21st century may have important implications for carbon cycle feedbacks.

Fassbender A. J., Rodgers K. B., Palevsky H. I., & Sabine C. L., in press. Seasonal asymmetry in the evolution of surface ocean pCO2 and pH thermodynamic drivers and the influence on sea‐air CO2 flux. Global Biogeochemical Cycles. Article (subscription required).


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