PerspectiveClimate

An increasing carbon sink?

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Science  11 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6253, pp. 1165
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0912

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Summary

Since 1870, Earth's oceans have absorbed more than one-quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning and other human activities, thereby dramatically slowing climate change (1). The Southern Ocean is responsible for ~40% of this global ocean carbon sink (2). Recent studies have suggested that the rate of carbon uptake by the Southern Ocean may be slowing (3, 4). Such a positive climate feedback effect would reduce the Southern Ocean's capacity to slow climate change. On page 1221 of this issue, Landschützer et al. show that although the rate of carbon uptake by the Southern Ocean slowed between the 1980s and early 2000s, it began to strengthen again in 2002 and continued to do so until at least 2012 (5).