Southern Ocean Carbon Sink Constraints from Radiocarbon in Drake Passage Air

Monday, 15 December 2014
Colin M Lindsay, University of Colorado at Boulder, Geological Sciences/INSTAAR, Boulder, CO, United States, Scott Lehman, University of Colorado at Boulder, INSTAAR, Boulder, United States and John B Miller, NOAA/ESRL, Boulder, CO, United States; University of Colorado at Boulder, CIRES, Boulder, CO, United States
The Southern Ocean is one of the earth’s largest regional net carbon sinks due to strong westerly winds, which drive surface gas exchange, deep mixing and upwelling. The strength of the sink is set by complex interactions between the physical circulation, gas exchange and biological activity in surface waters. Recent work by others has predicted that global warming may weaken the sink by strengthening the regional winds, increasing upwelling and the flux of deep, naturally carbon-rich and radiocarbon-depleted water into the surface mixed layer. The resulting decrease in the air-sea pCO2 gradient is thought to overwhelm other compensating changes, causing a weakened net sink. Here we demonstrate the use of precise measurements of radiocarbon in Drake Passage air (14CO2) to detect short-term fluctuations in the Southern Ocean gross sea-to-air C flux, and by extension, possible changes in the net carbon sink and their underlying causes.

Drake Passage boundary layer air has been sampled since 2006 at roughly fortnightly intervals as part of NOAA’s Cooperative Air Sampling Network, resulting in a 5-year high-resolution 14CO2 time-series with accompanying same-flask CO2 concentration measurements. Atmospheric measurements at Drake Passage are representative of zonal average exchange fluxes due to strong mixing by the westerly winds. In preliminary results, anomalously low ∆14C values are correlated with positive states of the Southern Annular Mode, a hemispheric-scale indicator of stronger westerly winds in the high latitude Southern Ocean. Simulations from the TM5 atmospheric transport model with a detailed global radiocarbon budget are used to interpret the results. These results appear to support the hypothesized link between stronger westerly winds and a weaker Southern Ocean carbon sink.