In situ measurements of atmospheric O2 and CO2 reveal an unexpected O2 signal over the tropical Atlantic Ocean

Penelope A. Pickers, Andrew C. Manning, William T. Sturges, Corinne Le Quéré, Sara E. Mikaloff Fletcher, Philip A. Wilson, Alex J. Etchells

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We present the first meridional transects of atmospheric O2 and CO2 over the Atlantic Ocean. We combine these measurements into the tracer atmospheric potential oxygen (APO), which is a measure of the oceanic contribution to atmospheric O2 variations. Our new in situ measurement system, deployed on board a commercial container ship during 2015, performs as well as or better than existing similar measurement systems. The data show small short-term variability (hours to days), a step-change corresponding to the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), and seasonal cycles that vary with latitude. In contrast to data from the Pacific Ocean and to previous modeling studies, our Atlantic Ocean APO data show no significant bulge in the tropics. This difference cannot be accounted for by interannual variability in the position of the ITCZ or the Atlantic Meridional Mode Index and appears to be a persistent feature of the Atlantic Ocean system. Modeled APO using the TM3 atmospheric transport model does exhibit a significant bulge over the Atlantic and overestimates the interhemispheric gradient in APO over the Atlantic Ocean. These results indicate that either there are inaccuracies in the oceanic flux data products in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean region, or that there are atmospheric transport inaccuracies in the model, or a combination of both. Our shipboard O2 and CO2 measurements are ongoing and will reveal the long-term nature of equatorial APO outgassing over the Atlantic as more data become available.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1289–1305
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number8
Early online date26 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Atlantic
  • ocean
  • oxygen
  • outgassing
  • model

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