On the influence of marine biogeochemical processes over CO2 exchange between the atmosphere and ocean

Matthew P. Humphreys, Chris J. Daniels, Dieter A. Wolf-Gladrow, Toby Tyrrell, Eric P. Achterberg

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The ocean holds a large reservoir of carbon dioxide (CO2), and mitigates climate change through uptake of anthropogenic CO2. Fluxes of CO2 between the atmosphere and surface ocean are regulated by a number of physical and biogeochemical processes, resulting in a spatiotemporally heterogeneous CO2 distribution. Determining the influence of each individual process is useful for interpreting marine carbonate system observations, and is also necessary to investigate how changes in these drivers could affect air-sea CO2 exchange. Biogeochemical processes exert an influence primarily through modifying seawater dissolved inorganic carbon (CT) and total alkalinity (AT), thus changing the seawater partial pressure of CO2 (psw). Here, we propose a novel conceptual framework through which the size of the CO2 source or sink generated by any biogeochemical process, denoted Φ, can be evaluated. This is based on the ‘isocapnic quotient’ (Q), which defines the trajectory through (AT,CT) phase space for which there is no change in psw. We discuss the limitations and uncertainties inherent in this technique, which are negligible for most practical purposes, and its links with existing, related approaches. We investigate the effect on Φ of spatiotemporal heterogeneity in Q in the present day surface ocean for several key biogeochemical processes. This leads the magnitude of the CO2 source or sink generated by processes that modify AT to vary spatiotemporally. Finally, we consider how the strength of each process as a CO2 source or sink may change in a warmer, higher-CO2 future ocean.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalMarine Chemistry
Early online date27 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2018


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Air-sea gas exchange
  • Marine carbonate system
  • Calcification

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