Hakai Magazine discusses The Ocean Carbon Sink Has Set the Next Political Hurdle. New research reveals that once anthropogenic carbon emissions drop, so too will the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide. That could make it seem like emission reduction efforts aren’t working.
The ocean has absorbed 39 percent of the carbon dioxide we have pumped into the air since the Industrial Revolution. Like a giant sponge, the ocean and the organisms within it have soaked up the carbon dioxide by dissolving it from the air and through photosynthesis. This so-called ocean carbon sink has spared us from the worst terrestrial consequences of soaring atmospheric carbon dioxide—a relief counterbalanced by ocean acidification and other marine side effects.
There are myriad unanswered questions about how much of our carbon the ocean will continue to take up—and for how long—but answering them has been a central focus of climate research. One recent study, however, suggests that the ocean carbon sink is unexpectedly responsive: as soon as emissions go down, so will the ocean’s uptake. The sponge, it turns out, isn’t quite so spongy.