Multiple regimes of air-sea carbon partitioning identified from constant-alkalinity buffer factors



[1] Numerical studies have indicated that the steady-state ocean-atmosphere partitioning of carbon will change profoundly as emissions continue. In particular, the globally averaged Revelle buffer factor will first increase and then decrease at higher emissions. Furthermore, atmospheric carbon will initially grow exponentially with emission size, after which it will depend linearly on emissions at higher emission totals. In this article, we explain this behavior by means of an analytical theory based on simple carbonate chemistry. A cornerstone of the theory is a newly defined dimensionless factor, O. We show that the qualitative changes are connected with different regimes in ocean chemistry: if the air-sea partitioning of carbon is determined by the carbonate ion, then the Revelle factor increases with emissions, whereas the buffer factor decreases with emission size, when dissolved carbon dioxide determines the partitioning. Currently, the ocean carbonate chemistry is dominated by the carbonate ion response, but at high total emissions, the response of dissolved carbon dioxide takes on this role.