Southern Ocean anthropogenic carbon sink constrained by sea surface salinity

By Jens Terhaar, Thomas L. Frölicher and Fortunat Joos


The ocean attenuates global warming by taking up about one quarter of global anthropogenic carbon emissions. Around 40% of this carbon sink is located in the Southern Ocean. However, Earth system models struggle to reproduce the Southern Ocean circulation and carbon fluxes. We identify a tight relationship across two multimodel ensembles between present-day sea surface salinity in the subtropical-polar frontal zone and the anthropogenic carbon sink in the Southern Ocean. Observations and model results constrain the cumulative Southern Ocean sink over 1850-2100 to 158 ± 6 petagrams of carbon under the low-emissions scenario Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 1-2.6 (SSP1-2.6) and to 279 ± 14 petagrams of carbon under the high-emissions scenario SSP5-8.5. The constrained anthropogenic carbon sink is 14 to 18% larger and 46 to 54% less uncertain than estimated by the unconstrained estimates. The identified constraint demonstrates the importance of the freshwater cycle for the Southern Ocean circulation and carbon cycle.

The full (paywalled) article appeared on Science Advances website at https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/18/eabd5964.full


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