Interannual Variability in the North Atlantic Ocean Carbon Sink

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Science  20 Dec 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5602, pp. 2374-2378
DOI: 10.1126/science.1077077

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The North Atlantic is believed to represent the largest ocean sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide in the Northern Hemisphere, yet little is known about its temporal variability. We report an 18-year time series of upper-ocean inorganic carbon observations from the northwestern subtropical North Atlantic near Bermuda that indicates substantial variability in this sink. We deduce that the carbon variability at this site is largely driven by variations in winter mixed-layer depths and by sea surface temperature anomalies. Because these variations tend to occur in a basinwide coordinated pattern associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation, it is plausible that the entire North Atlantic Ocean may vary in concert, resulting in a variability of the strength of the North Atlantic carbon sink of about ±0.3 petagrams of carbon per year (1 petagram = 1015grams) or nearly ±50%. This extrapolation is supported by basin-wide estimates from atmospheric carbon dioxide inversions.

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