Southern Ocean is absorbing more carbon than ever

A new study finds that the vast Southern Ocean is absorbing CO2 at an increasing rate, which is raising serious concern among climate scientists.

The vast Southern Ocean has long been one of the planet’s most important carbon sinks, where enormous quantities of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are absorbed into the water and incorporated back into the life cycle. According to a report from CS Monitor, however, a new study shows that the rate of absorption in the Southern Ocean is rising fast.

The Southern Ocean never actually lost its ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, as some reports may say. In fact, the ocean could probably absorb even more CO2. The real problem, climate scientists say, is that there is simply more CO2 in the atmosphere than there was 10 years ago.

The Southern Ocean removes an estimated 43 percent of manmade carbon emissions. A study released eight years ago suggested that the amount of CO2 absorbed by the ocean had decreased between 1981 and 2004, and researchers believed that the dip could be attributed to a hole in the ozone layer directly above Antarctica and global warming as a whole. Many climatologists cite weakened wind patterns as the reason for the dip observed.

Whatever the cause for the decrease in absorption, the Southern Ocean was back to its full carbon sinking capacity by 2012. While it is certainly good news for people that support the continued burning of fossil fuels, more CO2 in the ocean isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Carbon mixes with seawater to make it acidic, which poses a serious threat to animals with calcium-based shells like crabs, oysters, and corals. These species provide the foundation of countless oceanic food webs, and their disappearance could mean disaster for the world’s fisheries and ecosystems.

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