Long-term changes in dissolved oxygen concentrations in the ocean caused by protracted global warming

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Abstract

[1] In the Earth's geological record massive marine ecological change has been attributed to the occurrence of widespread anoxia in the ocean [Jahren, 2002; White, 2002; Wignall and Twitchett, 1996]. Climate change projection till the end of this century predict a 4 to 7% decline in the dissolve oxygen in the ocean [Bopp et al., 2002; Matear et al., 2000; Plattner et al., 2001; Sarmiento et al., 1998] suggesting the potential for global warming to eventually drive the deep ocean anoxic. To examine the multicentury impact of protracted global warming on oceanic concentrations of dissolved oxygen, we use a climate system model and a low-order oceanic biogeochemical model. The models are integrated for an atmospheric equivalent CO2 concentration, which is specified to triple according to a standard scenario from the late nineteenth to the late twenty-first century, and then is subsequently held constant at that elevated level for an additional 6 centuries. For the present day, the model successfully reproduced the large-scale features of the dissolved oxygen field in the ocean. In the global warming simulation, the physical model displays marked changes in high-latitude oceanic stratification and overturning, including near-cessation of deep water renewal for depths greater than about 1.5 km during the period of elevated stable CO2 concentration. Our model predicts a decline in oxygen concentration through most of the subsurface ocean. Concentration changes in the thermocline waters result mainly from solubility changes in the upstream source waters, while changes in the deep waters result mainly from lack of ventilation and ongoing consumption of oxygen by remineralization of sinking particulate organic matter. Changes in the upper 2 km of the ocean generally show signs of equilibration by the end of the integration, but at greater depths, there occurs a slow but steady decline through to the end of the integration. By the end of the integration, we simulate a doubling of the volume of hypoxic water (less than 10 μmol/kg) in the thermocline of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. During the integration deep ocean oxygen concentrations generally decline by between 20 and 40%, but, significantly, no extensive deep ocean anoxia develops during the period of integration, nor does it appear that it would likely do so for at least a further 4000 years of integration. Subsurface oxygen decline is moderated by an overall reduction in export production of particulate organic matter, which reduces oxygen consumption in the ocean interior due to the remineralization of this material.

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