Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Technology
Networks
Scientific Communities
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Storing Carbon in the Arctic

Published: Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Bookmark and Share
While the Arctic Ocean is largely a carbon sink, researchers find parts are also a source of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

For the past three decades, as the climate has warmed, the massive plates of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean have shrunk: In 2007, scientists observed nearly 50 percent less summer ice than had been seen in 1980.

Dramatic changes in ice cover have, in turn, altered the Arctic ecosystem — particularly in summer months, when ice recedes and sunlight penetrates surface waters, spurring life to grow. Satellite images have captured large blooms of phytoplankton in Arctic regions that were once relatively unproductive. When these organisms die, a small portion of their carbon sinks to the deep ocean, creating a sink, or reservoir, of carbon.

Now researchers at MIT have found that with the loss of sea ice, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more of a carbon sink. The team modeled changes in Arctic sea ice, temperatures, currents, and flow of carbon from 1996 to 2007, and found that the amount of carbon taken up by the Arctic increased by 1 megaton each year.

But the group also observed a somewhat paradoxical effect: A few Arctic regions where waters were warmest were actually less able to store carbon. Instead, these regions — such as the Barents Sea, near Greenland — were a carbon source, emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

While the Arctic Ocean as a whole remains a carbon sink, MIT principal research scientist Stephanie Dutkiewicz says places like the Barents Sea paint a more complex picture of how the Arctic is changing with global warming.

“People have suggested that the Arctic is having higher productivity, and therefore higher uptake of carbon,” Dutkiewicz says. “What’s nice about this study is, it says that’s not the whole story. We’ve begun to pull apart the actual bits and pieces that are going on.”

A paper by Dutkiewicz and co-authors Mick Follows and Christopher Hill of MIT, Manfredi Manizza of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and Dimitris Menemenlis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

The ocean’s carbon cycle

The cycling of carbon in the oceans is relatively straightforward: As organisms like phytoplankton grow in surface waters, they absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, carbon dioxide builds cell walls and other structures; when organisms die, some portion of the plankton sink as organic carbon to the deep ocean. Over time, bacteria eat away at the detritus, converting it back into carbon dioxide that, when stirred up by ocean currents, can escape into the atmosphere.

The MIT group developed a model to trace the flow of carbon in the Arctic, looking at conditions in which carbon was either stored or released from the ocean. To do this, the researchers combined three models: a physical model that integrates temperature and salinity data, along with the direction of currents in a region; a sea ice model that estimates ice growth and shrinkage from year to year; and a biogeochemistry model, which simulates the flow of nutrients and carbon, given the parameters of the other two models.

The researchers modeled the changing Arctic between 1996 and 2007 and found that the ocean stored, on average, about 58 megatons of carbon each year — a figure that increased by an average of 1 megaton annually over this time period.

These numbers, Dutkiewicz says, are not surprising, as the Arctic has long been known to be a carbon sink. The group’s results confirm a widely held theory: With less sea ice, more organisms grow, eventually creating a bigger carbon sink.

A new counterbalance

However, one finding from the group muddies this seemingly linear relationship. Manizza found a discrepancy between 2005 and 2007, the most severe periods of sea ice shrinkage. While the Arctic lost more ice cover in 2007 than in 2005, less carbon was taken up by the ocean in 2007 — an unexpected finding, in light of the theory that less sea ice leads to more carbon stored.

Manizza traced the discrepancy to the Greenland and Barents seas, regions of the Arctic Ocean that take in warmer waters from the Atlantic. (In warmer environments, carbon is less soluble in seawater.) Manizza observed this scenario in the Barents Sea in 2007, when warmer temperatures caused more carbon dioxide to be released than stored.

The results point to a subtle balance: An ocean’s carbon flow depends on both water temperature and biological activity. In warmer waters, carbon is more likely to be expelled into the atmosphere; in waters with more biological growth — for example, due to less sea ice — carbon is more likely to be stored in ocean organisms.

In short, while the Arctic Ocean as a whole seems to be storing more carbon than in previous years, the increase in the carbon sink may not be as large as scientists had previously thought.

“The Arctic is special in that it’s certainly a place where we see changes happening faster than anywhere else,” Dutkiewicz says. “Because of that, there are bigger changes in the sea ice and biology, and therefore possibly to the carbon sink.”

Manizza adds that while the remoteness of the Arctic makes it difficult for scientists to obtain accurate measurements, more data from this region “can both inform us about the change in the polar area and make our models highly reliable for policymaking decisions.”

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,400+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 3,700+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Identifying a Key Growth Factor in Cell Proliferation
Researchers discover that aspartate is a limiter of cell proliferation.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Firms “Under-invest” in Long-Term Cancer Research
Tweaks to the R&D pipeline could create new drugs and greater social benefit.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Nanoparticles Can Clean Up Environmental Pollutants
Researchers have found that nanomaterials and UV light can “trap” chemicals for easy removal from soil and water.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Bacterial Computing
The “friendly” bacteria inside our digestive systems are being given an upgrade, which may one day allow them to be programmed to detect and ultimately treat diseases such as colon cancer and immune disorders.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Researchers Develop Genetic Tools to Engineer Common Gut Bacterium
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed genetic parts that can be combined to program the commensal gut bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron.
Friday, July 10, 2015
Chemists Design a Quantum-Dot Spectrometer
New instrument is small enough to function within a smartphone, enabling portable light analysis.
Friday, July 03, 2015
Longstanding Problem Put to Rest
Proof that a 40-year-old algorithm for comparing genomes is the best possible will come as a relief to computer scientists.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Tough biogel structures produced by 3-D printing
Researchers have developed a new way of making tough — but soft and wet — bio-compatible materials, called “hydrogels,” into complex and intricately patterned shapes.
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
Diagnosing Cancer with Help from Bacteria
Engineered probiotics can detect tumors in the liver.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Master Gene Regulator Could Be New Target For Schizophrenia Treatment
Researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have identified a master genetic regulator that could account for faulty brain functions that contribute to schizophrenia.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Freshly Squeezed Vaccines
Microfluidic cell-squeezing device opens new possibilities for cell-based vaccines.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Designing Better Medical Implants
A team of MIT researchers have discovered a novel method for reducing the typical immune system rejection response when implanting biomedical devices into the body.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Researchers Identify New Target For Anti-Malaria Drugs
Manipulating the permeability of a type of vacuole could help defeat malarial parasites.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Faster, Smaller, More Informative
Device can measure the distribution of tiny particles as they flow through a microfluidic channel.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
How To Identify Drugs That Work Best For Each Patient
Implantable device could allow doctors to test cancer drugs in patients before prescribing chemotherapy.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Scientific News
Study Finds Brain Chemicals that Keep Wakefulness in Check
Researchers to develop new drugs that promote better sleep, or control hyperactivity in people with mania.
Sorting Through Cellular Statistics
Aaron Dinner, professor in chemistry, and his graduate student Herman Gudjonson are trying to read the manual of life, DNA, as part of the Dinner group’s research into bioinformatics—the application of statistics to biological research.
Playing 'Tag' with Pollution lets Scientists See Who's It
Using a climate model that can tag sources of soot from different global regions and can track where it lands on the Tibetan Plateau, researchers have determined which areas around the plateau contribute the most soot — and where.
Women’s Immune System Genes Operate Differently from Men’s
A new technology reveals that immune system genes switch on and off differently in women and men, and the source of that variation is not primarily in the DNA.
Long Telomeres Associated with Increased Lung Cancer Risk
Genetic predisposition for long telomeres predicts increased lung adenocarcinoma risk.
First Artificial Ribosome Designed
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins and enzymes within the cell.
High-Resolution 3D Images Reveal the Muscle Mitochondrial Power Grid
NIH mouse study overturns scientific ideas on energy distribution in muscle.
Expanding the Brain
A team of researchers has identified more than 40 new “imprinted” genes, in which either the maternal or paternal copy of a gene is expressed while the other is silenced.
Identifying a Key Growth Factor in Cell Proliferation
Researchers discover that aspartate is a limiter of cell proliferation.
Study Uncovers Target for Preventing Huntington’s Disease
Scientists from Cardiff University believe that a treatment to prevent or delay the symptoms of Huntington’s disease could now be much closer, following a major breakthrough.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,400+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,700+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FREE!