Global Biogeochemical Cycles

An empirical estimate of the Southern Ocean air-sea CO2 flux



[1] Despite improvements in our understanding of the Southern Ocean air-sea flux of CO2, discrepancies still exist between a variety of differing ocean/atmosphere methodologies. Here we employ an independent method to estimate the Southern Ocean air-sea flux of CO2 that exploits all available surface ocean measurements for dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and total alkalinity (ALK) beyond 1986. The DIC concentrations were normalized to the year 1995 using coinciding CFC measurements in order to account for the anthropogenic CO2 signal. We show that independent of season, surface-normalized DIC and ALK can be empirically predicted to within ∼8 μmol/kg using standard hydrographic properties. The predictive equations were used in conjunction with World Ocean Atlas (2001) climatologies to give a first estimate of the annual cycle of DIC and ALK in the surface Southern Ocean. These seasonal distributions will be very useful in both validating biogeochemistry in general circulation models and for use in situ biological studies within the Southern Ocean. Using optimal CO2 dissociation constants, we then estimate an annual cycle of pCO2 and associated net air-sea CO2 flux. Including the effects of sea ice, we estimate a Southern Ocean (>50°S) CO2 sink of 0.4 ± 0.25 Pg C/yr. Our analysis also indicates a substantial CO2 sink of 1.1 ± 0.6 Pg C/yr within the sub-Antarctic zone (40°S–50°S), associated with strong cooling and high winds. Our results imply the Southern Ocean CO2 flux south of 50°S to be very similar to those found by Takahashi et al. (2002), but on the higher end of a range of atmospheric/oceanic CO2 inversion methodologies. This paper estimates for the first time basic seasonal carbon cycle parameters within the circumpolar Southern Ocean, which have up to now been extremely difficult to measure and sparse. The application of such an empirical technique using more widely available hydrographic parameters in the Southern Ocean provides an important independent estimate to not only CO2 uptake, but also for other future biogeochemical studies. Refining and testing these empirical methods with new carbon measurements will be important to further reduce uncertainties and extend our understanding of Southern Ocean CO2 dynamics.