Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New Study by WHOI Scientists Provides Baseline Measurements of Carbon in Arctic Ocean

22.05.2012
Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have conducted a new study to measure levels of carbon at various depths in the Arctic Ocean.
The study, recently published in the journal Biogeosciences, provides data that will help researchers better understand the Arctic Ocean’s carbon cycle—the pathway through which carbon enters and is used by the marine ecosystem. It will also offer an important point of reference for determining how those levels of carbon change over time, and how the ecosystem responds to rising global temperatures.

“Carbon is the currency of life. Where carbon is coming from, which organisms are using it, how they're giving off carbon themselves—these things say a lot about how an ocean ecosystem works,” says David Griffith, the lead author on the study. “If warming temperatures perturb the Arctic Ocean, the way that carbon cycles through that system may change.”

Griffith’s team sampled suspended particles of organic matter, as well as organic carbon and carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolved into the surrounding water. This is the first time that researchers have focused broadly on measuring multiple types of carbon at the same time and place in the Arctic Ocean—due to its remote location and the challenges of operating in sea ice, few comprehensive carbon surveys had been conducted there before this study.

Griffith and his colleagues conducted their fieldwork in 2008 aboard the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St. Laurent. At two different spots in the Canada Basin, an area northwest of the Canadian coast, they gathered samples from 24 depths ranging from the surface to the ocean floor 3800 meters (roughly 12,500 feet) below.

Collecting samples at those intervals was necessary, Griffith says, because the Arctic Ocean is separated into distinct layers, each with its own unique carbon characteristics. At the surface is a freshwater layer from river runoff and sea-ice melt. Below that is a layer of cold water from the Pacific, and below that is a warm, salty Atlantic layer. The deepest layer is slowly replaced by mixing with overlying Atlantic water.

Measuring the different amounts of carbon in each layer (and determining its source) is an essential step in understanding the flow of carbon through the marine ecosystem, says Griffith: “It’s kind of like understanding how freight and people move in a city. If you don’t know what’s coming in and out, it’s really hard to understand how the city works.”

To analyze the contents of his samples, Griffith turned to Ann McNichol, a WHOI senior researcher and staff chemist. At WHOI’s National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometer Facility (NOSAMS), she tallied the total number of carbon atoms in each specimen, including carbon-13, a stable isotope of the element. McNichol says that it can be used to determine where a particular pool of carbon originated, and how it may have been utilized by the marine ecosystem.

“Carbon-13 is primarily a source indicator,” she says. “By measuring levels of carbon-13 at different depths, it’s possible to determine if the carbon there was generated by the marine environment, ocean ice environment, or by terrestrial sources.” The team also examined levels of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope that can help determine the age of each sample to further determine its source.

In addition to understanding the basic carbon cycle in the Arctic Ocean, Griffith’s team hopes that the results of this baseline study will help evaluate how Arctic Ocean carbon levels and global climate interact. Griffith says there are several ways this could happen.

As the Arctic gradually warms, it may cause a more intense precipitation cycle over northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, generating more rainfall each year. This in turn would cause more runoff from melting permafrost and eroded soil—both rich sources of organic carbon.

One possible outcome of that scenario could be an increase of carbon dioxide in the region. As bacteria in Arctic Ocean use the new influx of carbon as a food source, they may create CO2 as a byproduct. A second possibility, Griffith posits, is that warming temperatures and melting sea ice might boost the production of phytoplankton, tiny plant-like organisms that live near the ocean’s surface and thrive on carbon dioxide in the water. As those phytoplankton die (or are eaten by other organisms and released as waste), they would sink to the sea floor, causing the carbon in their bodies to be sequestered in thick sediments—effectively removing the increased carbon from the environment.

“Those are just a few aspects of what might happen. But for every one that we think about, there could be 10 others that drive the system in a different direction,” says Griffith. “We don't yet have the kind of data to say anything definitive about how the Arctic would be affected by warming climate—but what we do have is a very important baseline of data to help evaluate changes that will happen in the future. Without that, you‘re unfortunately just guessing at how things change over time.”

Also collaborating on the study were WHOI geochemist Li Xu, Fiona McLaughlin and Robie Macdonald of the Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Kristina Brown of the University of British Columbia, and Timothy Eglinton of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

This research was funded by the WHOI Arctic Research Initiative, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian International Polar Year Office, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans’ role in the changing global environment.

WHOI Media Relations Office | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.whoi.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Closing the carbon loop
08.12.2016 | University of Pittsburgh

nachricht Newly discovered bacteria-binding protein in the intestine
08.12.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Closing the carbon loop

08.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems

08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>