Ocean carbon dioxide measurements get improved

A global report released this week on changing carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and land environment draws heavily from data and observations by NOAA research scientists and their partners.

For the first time, the annual assessment by the Global Carbon Project uses data obtained from autonomous instruments installed by NOAA scientists on its ships and other ships of opportunity and moorings to determine the variability of carbon dioxide in the surface ocean. NOAA works with ship operators from academic institutions and private industry, including cargo and cruise ships, who voluntarily install automated systems that record carbon dioxide data.

Measurement of carbon dioxide sources and sinks, (areas that absorb carbon dioxide) in the ocean help improve our understanding of how carbon dioxide is distributed in our atmosphere, oceans and land. An accurate assessment of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions and their redistribution will support projections of future climate change, according to the report.

While the ocean's absorption of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions is mitigating the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this absorption contributes to changes in the ocean's chemistry. These changes, referred to as ocean acidification, can make it difficult for some marine animals to grow, build shells, reproduce and respond to other stresses. This in turn, threatens our supply of seafood and jobs that fisheries provide communities around the world.

Scientists at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Lab and Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab, Cooperative Institutes and other academic collaborators, supported by sustained funding from NOAA's Climate Program Office, are at the forefront of developing a global, surface-ocean, carbon dioxide observing network to measure ocean carbon dioxide sources and sinks. NOAA and partners have contributed over half of the data in open access international global databases. The ship routes and results of NOAA sponsored measurement of global surface waters is shown in the map accompanying this story.

The 2014 Global Carbon Budget report estimates that the ocean sequestered 29 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning in the most recent year studied (2013). The ocean has increased its absorption nearly three-fold in the last 50 years, according to the report.

NOAA's investment in improved observations and technology has helped reduce the uncertainty in the ocean carbon sink from 45 to 20 percent.

In addition to the ocean carbon data provided by NOAA and partners, scientists at NOAA's Earth System Research Lab Global Monitoring Division provide open access data to this and many other reports on rising levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases in the atmosphere. NOAA provides the world calibration scales and about half of the world's long-term measurements for these gases.

The Global Carbon Project is releasing this year's Global Carbon Budget this week to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in New York. The Global Carbon Project is an international consortium of scientists, whichwas established in 2001 in recognition of the large scientific challenges and critical nature of the carbon cycle for the Earth's sustainability.

Mapping carbon dioxide:This image above shows the tracks of vessels in NOAA's Ship of Opportunity program which has installed automated surface water carbon dioxide measuring systems on vessels to measure carbon dioxide at the ocean's surface. Yellow and red indicate areas where carbon dioxide is released from the ocean (carbon dioxide sources to the atmosphere) and green and blue show areas where carbon dioxide is sequestered by the ocean (sinks of atmospheric carbon dioxide). Please click on the image for a larger view.

You can read more information on the Global Carbon Budget report.

Source and Image Credit: NOAA