What drives the latitudinal gradient in open-ocean surface dissolved inorganic carbon concentration?

Yingxu Wu, Mathis P. Hain, Matthew P. Humphreys, Sue Hartman, Toby Tyrrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Previous work has not led to a clear understanding of the causes of spatial pattern in global surface ocean dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), which generally increases polewards. Here, we revisit this question by investigating the drivers of observed latitudinal gradients in surface salinity-normalized DIC (nDIC) using the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project version 2 (GLODAPv2) database. We used the database to test three different hypotheses for the driver producing the observed increase in surface nDIC from low to high latitudes. These are (1) sea surface temperature, through its effect on the CO2 system equilibrium constants, (2) salinity-related total alkalinity (TA), and (3) highlatitude upwelling of DIC- and TA-rich deep waters. We find that temperature and upwelling are the two major drivers. TA effects generally oppose the observed gradient, except where higher values are introduced in upwelled waters. Temperature-driven effects explain the majority of the surface nDIC latitudinal gradient (182 of the 223 μmol kg1 increase from the tropics to the high-latitude Southern Ocean). Upwelling, which has not previously been considered as a major driver, additionally drives a substantial latitudinal gradient. Its immediate impact, prior to any induced air-sea CO2 exchange, is to raise Southern Ocean nDIC by 220 μmol kg1 above the average low-latitude value. However, this immediate effect is transitory. The long-term impact of upwelling (brought about by increasing TA), which would persist even if gas exchange were to return the surface ocean to the same CO2 as without upwelling, is to increase nDIC by 74 μmol kg1 above the low-latitude average.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2661-2681
Number of pages21
JournalBiogeosciences
Volume16
Issue number13
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2019

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