How does ocean biology affect atmospheric pCO2? Theory and models
Article first published online: 22 JUL 2008
Copyright 2008 by the American Geophysical Union.
Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans (1978–2012)
Volume 113, Issue C7, July 2008
How to Cite
2008), How does ocean biology affect atmospheric pCO2? Theory and models, J. Geophys. Res., 113, C07032, doi:10.1029/2007JC004598., , , , and (
- Issue published online: 22 JUL 2008
- Article first published online: 22 JUL 2008
- Manuscript Accepted: 21 MAR 2008
- Manuscript Revised: 26 FEB 2008
- Manuscript Received: 18 OCT 2007
- carbon cycle;
- preformed nutrient;
- nutrient depletion
 This paper examines the sensitivity of atmospheric pCO2 to changes in ocean biology that result in drawdown of nutrients at the ocean surface. We show that the global inventory of preformed nutrients is the key determinant of atmospheric pCO2 and the oceanic carbon storage due to the soft-tissue pump (OCSsoft). We develop a new theory showing that under conditions of perfect equilibrium between atmosphere and ocean, atmospheric pCO2 can be written as a sum of exponential functions of OCSsoft. The theory also demonstrates how the sensitivity of atmospheric pCO2 to changes in the soft-tissue pump depends on the preformed nutrient inventory and on surface buffer chemistry. We validate our theory against simulations of nutrient depletion in a suite of realistic general circulation models (GCMs). The decrease in atmospheric pCO2 following surface nutrient depletion depends on the oceanic circulation in the models. Increasing deep ocean ventilation by increasing vertical mixing or Southern Ocean winds increases the atmospheric pCO2 sensitivity to surface nutrient forcing. Conversely, stratifying the Southern Ocean decreases the atmospheric CO2 sensitivity to surface nutrient depletion. Surface CO2 disequilibrium due to the slow gas exchange with the atmosphere acts to make atmospheric pCO2 more sensitive to nutrient depletion in high-ventilation models and less sensitive to nutrient depletion in low-ventilation models. Our findings have potentially important implications for both past and future climates.