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Scientists are moving closer to understanding how carbon reaches the deep ocean

Posted May 2, 2019

There is a phenomenon, called the biological gravitational pump. It is a well-established way of deposing carbon onto the ocean floor. Phytoplanktons absorb carbon from the atmosphere and, when they die, sink to the bottom of the ocean. However, the biological gravitational pump does not account for all of the carbon reaching the deep ocean. So where does it come from?

Scientists are still trying to solve the puzzle of the biological gravitational pump – how so much carbon can be stored in the ocean? Image credit: XEON via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

An international team of scientists has proposed a new explanation for how the ocean absorbs and stores carbon. Although the biological gravitational pump is definitely significant, scientists say that range of additional pathways inject a much wider range of particles into the deep ocean. Scientists were particularly interested in particle injection pumps, which are thought to move just as much carbon as the biological gravitational pump.

Scientists were puzzled by carbon storage in oceans for quite some time. They noticed that there is a lot of carbon in the deep ocean, but the amount of carbon-rich particles doesn’t add up to account for the entire carbon stored. In other words, scientists could not balance the books – some carbon is coming from somewhere else. In fact, the biological gravitational pump accounts just for around half of the carbon stored in the deep ocean. The rest is probably responsibility of the particle injection pumps.

Particle injection pumps are a range of physical and biological mechanisms that move carbon from the atmosphere into the deep ocean. These include ocean eddies and zooplankton, who eat carbon-rich organisms and store carbon in a form of faeces as they move deeper into the ocean.  Particle injection pumps are not just one particular process. It is a combination of smaller factors that are moving smaller particles deep into the ocean. And it is important to understand how it works, because ocean carbon storage is one of the factors determining our climate and how it changes.

These findings could finally allow scientists to figure out the entire carbon storage in the ocean. Philip Boyd, leader of the research, said: “This breakthrough is vital in allowing us to establish a baseline against which we can measure and understand future changes in ocean carbon and its effects on the global climate. It also highlights a number of areas that require further research, so we can better understand the mechanisms involved and their relative contribution to the ocean carbon cycle”.

The ocean is extremely important in the world’s climate. It is a complex system that is still poorly understood. This also highlights the importance of preserving ocean and researching how the climate change is going to affects its chemical composition and wildlife.


Source: University of Tasmania

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