3rd July 2023: Surface ocean carbon dioxide observations from Irish waters collected by the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer have been published in the 2023 version of the Surface Ocean Carbon Atlas (SOCAT).
With over 42 million surface ocean CO₂ measurements from across the globe, the Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (www.SOCAT.info) is a key dataset for quantifying the evolving ocean uptake and sink for CO2. These data provide scientists, climate researchers and international policy makers with essential information on ocean carbon dioxide measurements. These observations are essential to understand current and project future climate change as well as for monitoring changes in ocean chemistry and predicting the impacts of these changes.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations continue to rise rapidly and currently are at about 420 parts per million (ppm), up from 280ppm in preindustrial times. The current atmospheric level would be significantly higher, and climate change even more pronounced, but for our global ocean absorbing about a quarter of CO2 emissions from human activities each year. There is, however, a cost. Absorbing additional CO2 increases the acidity of seawater. This process is known as ocean acidification, and it may have dramatic consequences for marine life as detailed in a recent assessment by OSPAR.
If sea water is too acidic, it can make it difficult for marine organisms such as coral, oysters and mussels to form shells and skeletons. The impacts of ocean acidification and warming could also extend up the food chain, affecting fisheries and aquaculture, threatening food security for millions of people.
Evin McGovern at the Marine Institute, who was co-convenor of the international expert group that produced the OSPAR Ocean Acidification assessment, said: “High quality measurements of surface ocean carbon dioxide are needed for a better understanding of the impact of ocean-atmosphere interactions on climate. The Marine Institute is contributing to global science, providing advanced scientific knowledge which will help inform policy and our response to a changing ocean”.
Ocean and atmospheric CO2 measurements have been collected on the RV Celtic Explorer since 2017. This year Ireland joined the Integrated Carbon Observing Station (ICOS), a European Infrastructure network supporting standardised high-precision carbon flux measurements between atmosphere, land and the ocean, and the RV Celtic Explorer was adopted as an ICOS Ocean “station”. In Ireland, marine CO2 measurements are also collected at fixed stations and additional CO2 observing capacity will be available on the new national research vessel, the RV Tom Crean, extending the coverage.
More information on SOCAT is available here
The increasing ocean carbon sink and associated uncertainty responding to increased atmospheric CO2. This figure shows the deviation between observation based estimates (data products) and model estimates (GOBMs). The bar plot shows the number of observations in SOCATV2022. From Global Carbon Budget 2022. (Friedlingstein et al. 2022)
Friedlingstein, P., O’Sullivan, M., Jones, M. W., Andrew, R. M., Gregor, L., Hauck, J., Le Quéré, C., et al. 2022. Global Carbon Budget 2022. Earth System Science Data, 14: 4811–4900. Copernicus GmbH.
McGovern, E., Schilder, J., Artioli, Y., Birchenough, S., Dupont, S., Findlay, H., Skjelvan, I., Skogen, M.D., Álvarez, M., Büsher, J.V., Chierici, M., Aagaard Christensen, J.P., Diaz, P.L., Grage, A., Gregor, L., Humphreys, M., Järnegren, J., Knockaert, M., Krakau, M., Nogueira, M., Ólafsdóttir, S.R., von Schuckmann, K., Carreiro-Silva, M., Stiasny, M., Walsham, P., Widdicombe, S., Gehlen, M., Chau, T.T.T., Chevallier, F., Savoye, N., Clark, J., Galli, G., Hordoir, R. and Moffat. C. 2022. Ocean Acidification. In: OSPAR, 2023: The 2023 Quality Status Report for the North-East Atlantic. OSPAR Commission, London. Available at: https://oap.ospar.org/en/ospar-assessments/quality-status-reports/qsr-2023/other-assessments/ocean-acidification