Climate undergoes sea change

LAST UPDATED: 31 Mar, 2009 @ 11:21
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Climate undergoes sea change

Bob Maddox assess the findings of a report claiming the oceans are not absorbing as much carbon dioxide as they once did

WHATEVER your view of the great Climate Change debate, some things continue to change even faster than the climate itself – data and the predictions and opinions we generate from it.

And none has sent scientific temperatures rising quite so rapidly than a report by Professor Andrew Watson at the University of East Anglia.

In the study, which first appeared in the Journal of Geophysical Research, he claims the rate at which the world’s oceans absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) is slowing down.

In what he calls a “surprising and worrying development,” Watson reports that the amount of CO2 absorbed by the waters of the North Atlantic has halved between 1995 and 2005.

Why is this important? The oceans, along with the world’s terrestrial systems, play a vital role in regulating temperatures by absorbing CO2.

Of all the CO2 Man emits, only half remains in the atmosphere – the remainder is removed by these carbon ‘sinks’ and locked safely away in sediments, the shells of marine creatures and the in the very fabric of our vegetation.

These sinks are equivalent in size, each accounting for about one-quarter of our emissions.

With the oceans soaking up less CO2, more of our emissions are left to directly warm the atmosphere and these changes may have been triggered by Global Warming itself. As the surface waters of the ocean cool in winter, they become denser and sink, taking their absorbed CO2 with them into the depths.

“If you have a series of relatively warm winters, the ocean surface does not cool so much and the CO2 is not taken down into deep water,” Watson claims.

With the oceanic sinks absorbing less due to higher than average temperatures, more CO2 is left in the atmosphere to push temperatures higher still and warm the oceans even more.

But do not worry, it might never happen. With Watson’s admission that no one can say for sure whether this is part of a natural cycle or a response to our dirty lifestyles, the verdict will surely be “business as usual.”

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