back to article Southern Ocean calls time on carbon sinking

The Southern Ocean, one of the planet's biggest carbon sinks, is almost totally saturated, according to research published in the journal Science. Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) joined forces with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Max Planck institute for a four year study of the ocean around the …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Positive feedback, not negative

    "Most climate models predict that this kind of negative feedback will intensify this century, Le Quéré says."

    I think that was probably meant to be positive feedback; climate change makes the sinks less effective thereby increasing the rate of climate change (thereby making the sinks even less effective ...)

  2. Sam Spencer


    I find this kind of news absolutely terrifying

  3. Tim Spence


    Can't we just build big pipes up through the exosphere, and pump all our carbon dioxide through that out to space? If they're as "all that" as they're supposed to be, let the aliens deal with it, I say.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tim... and where do we get our oxygen then?

    Eh? If you pump out all Carbon Dioxide (CO2 = one carbon, two oxygen atoms), you deplete the planet of something it needs... oxygen.

    Not very smart, is it, to cut off our own air supply? No, didn't think so. Do something in space to split carbon and oxygen off and send them back.

  5. Daniel Deschamps

    re: Plumbing

    well, the only problem with "big pipes" is the fact of gravity... it'll just come back..

    I say if the Co2 level is so high, why are the oceans NOT covered in masses of algae.... seems kinda fishy

  6. John Bishop

    Dodgy science!

    These comments are making me smile -

    If you could pump away the CO2 (which I doubt for lots of reasons, like where's the energy going to come from to do it), it wouldn''t deplete our supply of oxygen! Oxygen isn't part of carbon dioxide, it's a separate gas.

    And as for saying 'the sea's full of CO2, why isn't there lots of algae'- algae (and all other green plants) produce CO2 as part of photosynthesis, they don't consume it. They need oxygen, the same as us.

  7. Ken Winters

    The upside!

    The upside of CO2 is substantial. If it contributes to “Global warming”, great! I still don’t know the downside of global warming. If in over a hundred years or so the earth gets warmer, great. I’ll be able to drive my H2 to the North Pole. Can you imagine swimming in the warm waters off Greenland in the future? Tropical resort where we now have snow and snow boarding. We are living in the best times of global warming. Potentially shorter winters longer spring, less snow…..hmmm, who knows what else. It can’t all be bad. I vote for injecting CO2 into the earth, preferably somewhere which has wells ready for this. Maybe the Middle East? Get ready for a nicer climate. BTW I liked the Water World concept. Cheers!

  8. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    Sorry John but ...

    John Bishop wrote :

    >> Oxygen isn't part of carbon dioxide, it's a separate gas.

    And the 'dioxide' bit of it's name comes from the fact that it contain two oxygen atoms.

    >> And as for saying 'the sea's full of CO2, why isn't there lots of algae'- algae (and all other green plants) produce CO2 as part of photosynthesis, they don't consume it. They need oxygen, the same as us.

    No, green plants photosynthesise CO2 in the atmosphere (plus other things), release the oxygen, and use the freed carbon for building themselves. That's why plants are essential - they consume CO2 and a) lock up the carbon by using it to build themselves, and b) produce oxygen for use to breath.

    Some growers heat their greenhouses with open flamed heaters specifically to increase the CO2 concentration (as well as warming of course) so that the plants will grow faster.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not so dodgy

    a quick google of "co2 algae southern ocean" gives all the answers i think you are looking for

    my favorite was

  10. Joe

    Human Effect on the Global Environment

    all of this is completely absurd, including some of your comments...

  11. Bruce Cook


    Dodgy Science?

    Amazingly enough, Wikipedia agrees with what I remember of my 2nd or 3rd grade science class. From Wikipedia: the production of glucose from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, with oxygen as a waste product.

    "Oxygen isn't part of carbon dioxide, it's a separate gas."

    I'm not even sure I want to start tearing that statement apart...

  12. Steven Moore

    Dodgy science, indeed!

    Keep smiling, John.

    "Oxygen isn't part of carbon dioxide, it's a separate gas."

    Oh? Let's see...CO2 is Carbon and Oxygen. One Carbon and 2 Oxygen (O2), to be precise. A molecule of Oxygen -- the kind you breathe -- is O2.

    "...algae (and all other green plants) produce CO2 as part of photosynthesis,"

    Wrong again, John. You have it backwards. Plants take in CO2, use the Carbon (C), and release the Oxygen (O2).

    Proud of that UK education, are you?

  13. RichardSmith

    On the science of the suggestions.

    We burn fossil fuels because they are a dense energy source. No one is going to pump CO2 to space, it would take the energy that we burnt to release to do it.

    Plants do take CO2 and release O2. (Exception, at night this process is reversed by by a very small amount.) However, the reason that we don't have huge algae and plankton blooms to take advantage of the CO2 is that in those waters they ALSO need, iron, phosphorous, potassium, etc. etc. It is not lack of CO2 that stops plants from taking up the CO2 but other needed elements.

    This is very bad news folks.

  14. Liz

    re: Dodgy science!

    Um, just a suggestion here, but before accusing others of dodgy science, you may want to double-check your own statements for accuracy. During photosynthesis, plants *do* consume carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide, water, and radient energy (such as sunlight) to make carbohydrates (i.e. food for the plant). Oxygen is released in the process.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mr Bishop... dodgy science? Really?

    "If you could pump away the CO2 (which I doubt for lots of reasons, like where's the energy going to come from to do it), it wouldn''t deplete our supply of oxygen! Oxygen isn't part of carbon dioxide, it's a separate gas."

    What do you think bodies do, Mr Bishop? They take a carbon source (usually carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, all of which are sources of carbon), add oxygen to burn that source for energy (remarkably - just like a car!), and give off (breathe out) carbon dioxide, water vapour and other chemical compounds of a more malodorous nature (*ahem* crap).

    So yes, if you keep siphoning off carbon dioxide, eventually the planet runs out of one essential item it needs to continue to do what it does, namely burning carbon-based energy sources, OXYGEN.

    You really should have listened in chemistry class.

  16. Ken Winters

    It's all good!

    It’s all good news. More CO2 means more potential release of O2 by giant algae monster. More Global warming ==>Less Global Cooling. I really won’t be around to see any of this so really the only ones that should be concerned with this are not even born yet, unless you count Redwood trees and tortoises.

  17. Jeremiah Steidl

    Re: John Bishop's comment

    I'd like to nominate John's comment for the Best of Comments feature they've got now. In perpetuity. (John, that means forever.)

  18. Grant Bearman

    If you believe the end-is-near crowd

    Oil will run out in a few decades.

    End of problem. We will all suddenly be far below Kyoto limits.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where do we get our oxygen from, then?

    Not from the CO2 that's underground. Mainly from photosynthesis - that is, from CO2 (and water vapour) already in the atmosphere. Green plants take it in, and using the energy from sunlight split the C from the O2, along with the H2 from the O of the water and build their tissue with it, thus locking the carbon out of the atmosphere until the tissue decomposes or gets eaten and recycled.

    So getting rid of the fossil-based CO2 wouldn't affect our oxygen supply, which was the original suggestion.

  20. Thomas Poole


    What an extraordinary claim! The ocean is deep, and slow, atmospheric CO2 is < 200 ppm, an 18th of what it was in the Ordivician period. Has the ocean been saturated before? What evidence is there for these claims? What predictions are made by the theory of globally threatening, man-made climate change, and do they turn out to be true? Did polar bears and penguins survive the last warming? Did anything thrive in the last ice age?

  21. Richard Russell

    Are we serious here?

    Thomas Poole writes, "What an extraordinary claim! The ocean is deep, and slow, atmospheric CO2 is < 200 ppm, an 18th of what it was in the Ordivician period."

    The Ordovician Period was over 400 million years ago and ended with a mass extinction. All the continents were then in one vast land mass and the seas were dominated by giant molluscs. Would Mr Poole like to live then?

    "Has the ocean been saturated before? What evidence is there for these claims? What predictions are made by the theory of globally threatening, man-made climate change, and do they turn out to be true?"

    The evidence is everywhere to be found, by looking. Mr Poole might make a start by consulting the article "Hansen's 1988 projections" posted on

    "Did polar bears and penguins survive the last warming?"

    Mr Poole's relationship to penguins and polar bears is moot. We are talking about human life here.

    What does Mr Poole mean by "the last warming"? Is he referring to the end of previous glacial periods? The significant point of the present warming is its suddenness. Temperatures have risen many times in the (long) past, but not so swiftly. Even the transition from the glacial periods (Ice Ages) to the interglacial periods probably took several centuries. It is the swiftness of current global warming which creates the danger to polar bears, penguins and to Mr Poole's children and grandchildren.

    "Did anything thrive in the last ice age?"

    Plenty thrived, though humans did not do that well (or so it is thought; the total population may have dropped to 40,000). What does this have to do with warming?

  22. Steven Moore

    Yes, Richard, we're serious

    So serious, I get my science from real science sources, and not a web site that's owned and operated by the Hockey Team.

    ("RealClimate" my arse)

    In the last 150 years, the "Global Temperature" (whatever that is) has risen about 1 C. That compares very well with past temperature changes, and is anything but swift or sudden.

    The last warming exceeded the current period, and polar bears, penguins, and people managed quite nicely.

  23. Andy

    Very Good Steven

    Now explain in your own words why global averages are really not very useful in predicting regional climate changes. Take into account rising temperatures at ground level accompanied by falling temperatures at high altitudes, albedo and changes in precipitation.

    In 400 words or less. Thank you.

  24. Campbell

    Didgy science-revisited.

    Why only half the story?

    During daylight plant photosynthesis consumes CO2 that is correct.

    However, at night, in the absence of light plants respire. Respiration consumes oxygen and produces CO2.

  25. Tom

    plants, co2 and o2

    Gees, nobody has this right yet. Yes, photosynthesis produces o2 as the byproduct of producing sugars. Yes respiriation uses oxygen for plant life processes and releases co2. Both process occur simultaneously during the day, while only respiration occurs in the abscence of sunlight. The net for the day tends to produce more o2 than co2.

    And no, I'm not buying yet another less than .01% of the necessary base timeline study for determining that the sky in falling.

  26. Richard Russell

    1 degree in the last 150 years?

    0.6 of which happened in the last 50 years.

    Are we to conclude that 1 degree is a small amount? On what is that assumption based? Can we see the comparison with those 'past temperature changes' you refer to?

    You seem uncertain as to what this 1 degree actually represents. Do your 'science sources' not explain this?

    What are these sources, may I ask? And what is your objection to RealClimate as a source?

  27. Campbell

    Ok Tom

    net gain in O2, or more importantly net loss of CO2, you say.

    So the answer is staring us in the face. We need to plant more of natures carbon scrubbers, trees, grass any old plants or weeds to increase bio-mass,.

    So what are the governments and peoples of the world waiting for?


  28. Steven Moore

    Andy, Richard

    While I believe that 32+ years working with absorption technology (ClO2, SO2, CO2, etc) have given me sufficient understanding of the physics and chemistry, I doubt that I can reply adequately in "400 words or less".

    Instead, I'll offer this:

    I hope you find it interesting.

    Best regards.

  29. Chris Fryer


    A perfect balance between CO2 uptake and O2 release during photosynthesis, and CO2 release and O2 uptake during respiration, depends on the system being in equilibrium, i.e. it presupposes that organisms do not grow, do not reproduce faster than they die, and that carbon laid down in tissue is subsequently released in decomposition by other organisms.

    Vast swamp forests thrived during the Carboniferous period (c. 300 mya). These trees had fairly rudimentary root systems, so had the tendency to fall over, and resisted decomposition due to the anaerobic conditions in the swamp water. The carbon locked up in the lignin and cellulose of the trees remained sequestered underground as coal.

    There is evidence that by the Carboniferous/Permian boundary, global temperatures had declined by 10°C. It is likely that the reduction in atmospheric CO2 by the Carboniferous trees contributed to this decline. The fact that we're releasing all this ancient carbon back into the atmosphere without enormous tracts of wobbly swamp-forest to suck it back up again has resulted in the present panic. Why is this proving so difficult to understand?

  30. Richard Russell

    The Carter article

    I read the article referred to by Steven Moore. There are two prongs to its thesis: one is a criticism of the science presented for the global warming hypothesis, and the other is an attack upon the independent authority of the IPCC.

    Leaving aside the second as an 'ad hominem' argument which could equally be made of the 'sceptics', and bearing in mind the limited space here, I shall comment in two areas of the scientific critisicm.

    Firstly, the article contained nothing new. Many of the points are false and have been refuted. For example, the article claims that avarage temperatures have recently been falling, a view that gained currency after the NASA satellite measurements of the mid-90s. More recent measurements show otherwise. It also repeats the wrong belief that land surface temperature measurements have been skewed by 'heat islands'. This is simply not the case. The article also suggests that such measurements neglect the oceans - 70% of the planet's surface. This again is not so. There are currently over 1700 buoys deployed over all the ocean areas, each measuring temperature and CO2 levels hourly. In scientific matters the article is simply not up to date.

    Secondly, the article omits key points. By harping on about natural climate change - which is not in dispute - it overlooks the anomolous nature of the recent changes to both temperature and CO2 levels. Both are untypically rapid. In particular, the article talks of CO2 levels naturally changing, but overlooks the fact that its unusually rapid increase appears to have overwhelmed the natural sinks (e.g. the oceans) and is accumulating in the atmosphere (the point of the original ElReg article).

    Furthermore, the article does not address the fact that the CO2 rise is deficient in C-14, confirming its origin as fossil fuel, nor the fact that the increase roughly corresponds to the total amount so far emitted throughout industrial history, allowing for a certain natural absorption.

    Finally, as with all the 'it's only natural' articles I've read, it is smug in its assumption that there is nothing for us to be worried about. Global warming by any cause is something we need to concern ourselves with, but there is indeed ample evidence - but not proof - that human activity is responsible for the main part of it. Should we not err on the side of caution and act to reduce emissions?

    I, too, hate the steam-hammer of current government-sponsored propaganda aimed at persuading us to reduce our individual CO2 output (and maybe avoid taking serious actions themselves thereby) but my sense of concern for the future has taken precidence over my ego in this case, and so I side with the 'warmers' - though with a mind open to fresh - and accurate - information.

  31. Steven Moore

    RE:The Carter article

    Spoken like a true RealClimate acolyte, Richard!

    ("Smug"? RealClimate has Smug in Spades)

    For a more balanced view, try:

    or, a big Hockey Team favorite:

  32. Richard Russell

    My pleasure, Steven!

    I shall follow up your recommendations with interest.

    In the meantime you may like to know that according to (huh? sourcewatch?) your friend Bob Carter is a member of the Institute for Public Affairs, funded by Woodside Petroleum, Esso Australia (a subsidiary of ExxonMobil) and several other energy companies. The IPA has "close ties" with the Australian Liberal Party ("small government, low taxes")

    'Real science', my arse.

  33. Steven Moore

    "according to", Richard?

    Institute for Public Affairs? Woodside Petroleum? Esso Australia?

    Didn't you earlier make a comment about ad hominem?

    (Full disclosure: in 1973 I had a 4-month contract at ARCO's Cherry Point refinery)

    Personally, I see nothing wrong with the idea of "small government, low taxes", that being the model n the US Constitution -- pity how far it has strayed.

    I see we're going to have to agree to disagree. Hopefully, we can continue to do that with a minmum of rancor. You write well, which indicates to me that you're intelligent, and therefore worthy of respect.(I don't suffer fools gladly, and I suspect neither do you)

    All the best.

  34. Richard Russell

    Agreeing and disagreeing while Rome burns

    I did not get any of my information from RealClimate. I only suggested reading an article of theirs about the accuracy of modelling in response to your question.

    I would have more respect for responses which involved attempts at addressing facts and providing argument in support of a case than with mere snide remarks. Disappointing.

    My 'ad hominem' applied to my response to the Carter article only. When sceptics claim (no point in saying 'argue') that the IPCC scientists are living off a government gravy train it's valid to point out that ExxonMobil (in one of its noms de plume) lies behind most of the sceptics' organisations.

    Meanwhile, an unusually early "very hot weather" warning has been issued here and our climate everywhere continues to behave waywardly. Somewhere at the beginning of the Carter article he says a proper response to natural disasters is to prepare and provide rescue (or something like that). Had he been serious about that he would have returned to that idea, having "disposed" of the great GW "scam", but he doesn't because he isn't, and neither are you.

    At the very least we should be taking seriously the probable consequences of certain global warming (rising sea-levels, water-shortage from melted glaciers and desertification, etc) as well as seeking to reduce known factors behind that warming. Sceptics like yourself make even that much preparation harder to enact.

  35. Steven Moore

    Oh, Richard...

    First off, thanks for calling me a "skeptic" as opposed to a "denier" (that word has acquired some ugly connotations).

    If memory serves, ExxonMobil has given about $16 Million US in the last 10 years to various groups/individuals. In that time, the US government has spent something like $15 BILLION US on climate research -- most all of those funds going to people who have a lot more in common with Hansen & Mann than they do with Carter & Gray (please correct those numbers if I'm in error). Then there is the enormous amount in contributions from/to groups such as Pew, Sierra Club, WorldWatch, Greenpeace, etc, all of which goes to promote the concept of AGW.

    Is ExxonMobil simply getting more bang for their buck, or is their argument more compelling?

    It may surprise you to know that I agree that mitgation strategies need to be developed. People should not build in flood zones, for example. Nor should they build along coastlines subject to erosion -- erosion caused by sea levels which have been rising since the end of the last Ice Age. Nor should people live in cities located below sea level (it is a true "environmental tragedy" that the effects of Katrina could have been negligible had environmental groups not prevented the Corps from improving flood control projects 10 years ago).

    But, ethanol subsidies? Cap and Trade? These are enormous wealth transfers which would do little -- if anything positive. It's no surprise that Enron was in favor of Cap & Trade, for they saw the profit potential -- as have several other energy companies, ExxonMobil included.

    How about mandating the use of CFL's? Well, lights are used during off-peak times, which means that there would be little reduction in CO2 production -- those generators have to keep running, after all. Further, who is making the CFL's? The Chinese. And they'll keep burning low-grade coal in unscrubbed power plants to make the CFL's.

    You don't say where you live, so I won't be able to follow your weather to see if the "Early Warning" bears out. I've noticed that a lot of these are more hyperbole that hypothesis (Remember the record hurricane season from last year?). Two years ago, we in the Pacific Northwest were warned of possible summer brownouts because the snowpack in the Cascades was below normal. This was in spite of the fact that the dams which supply most of the power here are on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, which get their water from the Rockies -- which had almost record snowpack. There were no brownouts.

    By the way, I earlier alluded to the difficulty in determining "Global Temperature". An interesting related thread has opened on ClimateAudit:

    This may be my last post. I don't know how much longer el Reg will keep it open, and the coming week appears to be full. I'm taking early retirement on June 1, and my boss left last week to take another job -- leaving me with a pile of projects to complete.

    I hope the above has softened some of your disappointment in me.



  36. Richard Russell

    Ah, now we're getting there!

    Thanks, Steven, for your last post. It does indeed seem we hold more in agreement than was at first apparent. One of my concerns is that too little is being done to prepare for rapid change, and too many empty promises being made by politicians about cutting emissions by 2020 or whenever (which will never happen).

    The state of the GW 'debate' is rather sad, and I'm disappointed in much on both sides. I will confess now that I'm not a scientist, but in large measure this GW business is about politics and how we organise ourselves globally, which concerns us all. If there is a flaw in the 'warmers' side of the debate it lies not in wrangles over scentific specifics - CO2 absorption patterns and the rest - since it is implausible that so many professional scientists would make so many small errors at the same time, but in the broader question of social dynamics, of which funding is a large part.

    Is the AGW movement a case of 'snowballing' (to pick an ironic term)? It wouldn't be the first mass hysteria of the modern age. Yet it has enough weight behind it to persuade me at present to go along with its interpretation of current climate change. Not enough credibility to make me committed, however.

    Thanks for an interesting exchange. I'll follow up your link on global avarage temperature. Enjoy your retirement!


This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022