Inverse estimates of the oceanic sources and sinks of natural CO2 and the implied oceanic carbon transport

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Abstract

[1] We use an inverse method to estimate the global-scale pattern of the air-sea flux of natural CO2, i.e., the component of the CO2 flux due to the natural carbon cycle that already existed in preindustrial times, on the basis of ocean interior observations of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and other tracers, from which we estimate ΔCgasex, i.e., the component of the observed DIC that is due to the gas exchange of natural CO2. We employ a suite of 10 different Ocean General Circulation Models (OGCMs) to quantify the error arising from uncertainties in the modeled transport required to link the interior ocean observations to the surface fluxes. The results from the contributing OGCMs are weighted using a model skill score based on a comparison of each model's simulated natural radiocarbon with observations. We find a pattern of air-sea flux of natural CO2 characterized by outgassing in the Southern Ocean between 44°S and 59°S, vigorous uptake at midlatitudes of both hemispheres, and strong outgassing in the tropics. In the Northern Hemisphere and the tropics, the inverse estimates generally agree closely with the natural CO2 flux results from forward simulations of coupled OGCM-biogeochemistry models undertaken as part of the second phase of the Ocean Carbon Model Intercomparison Project (OCMIP-2). The OCMIP-2 simulations find far less air-sea exchange than the inversion south of 20°S, but more recent forward OGCM studies are in better agreement with the inverse estimates in the Southern Hemisphere. The strong source and sink pattern south of 20°S was not apparent in an earlier inversion study, because the choice of region boundaries led to a partial cancellation of the sources and sinks. We show that the inversely estimated flux pattern is clearly traceable to gradients in the observed ΔCgasex, and that it is relatively insensitive to the choice of OGCM or potential biases in ΔCgasex. Our inverse estimates imply a southward interhemispheric transport of 0.31 ± 0.02 Pg C yr−1, most of which occurs in the Atlantic. This is considerably smaller than the 1 Pg C yr−1 of Northern Hemisphere uptake that has been inferred from atmospheric CO2 observations during the 1980s and 1990s, which supports the hypothesis of a Northern Hemisphere terrestrial sink.

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