Research ArticleOCEANOGRAPHY

Southern Ocean anthropogenic carbon sink constrained by sea surface salinity

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Science Advances  28 Apr 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 18, eabd5964
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd5964


The ocean attenuates global warming by taking up about one quarter of global anthropogenic carbon emissions. Around 40% of this carbon sink is located in the Southern Ocean. However, Earth system models struggle to reproduce the Southern Ocean circulation and carbon fluxes. We identify a tight relationship across two multimodel ensembles between present-day sea surface salinity in the subtropical-polar frontal zone and the anthropogenic carbon sink in the Southern Ocean. Observations and model results constrain the cumulative Southern Ocean sink over 1850-2100 to 158 ± 6 petagrams of carbon under the low-emissions scenario Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 1-2.6 (SSP1-2.6) and to 279 ± 14 petagrams of carbon under the high-emissions scenario SSP5-8.5. The constrained anthropogenic carbon sink is 14 to 18% larger and 46 to 54% less uncertain than estimated by the unconstrained estimates. The identified constraint demonstrates the importance of the freshwater cycle for the Southern Ocean circulation and carbon cycle.

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