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Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

The Northeast Water Polynya as an atmospheric CO2 sink: A seasonal rectification hypothesis


  • Patricia L. Yager,

  • Douglas W. R. Wallace,

  • Kenneth M. Johnson,

  • Walker O. Smith Jr.,

  • Peter J. Minnett,

  • Jody W. Deming


During the multidisciplinary ‘NEW92’ cruise of the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Polar Sea to the recurrent Northeast Water (NEW) Polynya (77–81°N, 6–17°W; July–August 1992), total dissolved inorganic carbon and total alkalinity in the water column were measured with high precision to determine the quantitative impact of biological processes on the regional air-sea flux of carbon. Biological processes depleted the total inorganic carbon of summer surface waters by up to 2 mol C m−2 or about 3%. On a regional basis this depletion correlated with depth-integrated values of chlorophyll a, particulate organic carbon, and the inorganic nitrogen deficit. Replacement of this carbon through exchange with the atmosphere was stalled owing to the low wind speeds during the month of the cruise, although model calculations indicate that the depletion could be replenished by a few weeks of strong winds before ice forms in the autumn. These measurements and observations allowed formulation of a new hypothesis whereby seasonally ice-covered regions like the NEW Polynya promote a unique biologically and physically mediated “rectification” of the typical (ice free, low latitude) seasonal cycle of air-sea CO2 flux. The resulting carbon sink is consistent with other productivity estimates and represents an export of biologically cycled carbon either to local sediments or offshore. If this scenario is representative of seasonally ice-covered Arctic shelves, then the rectification process could provide a small, negative feedback to excess atmospheric CO2.

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