Ocean System Inertia Could Nullify Carbon Emissions Decline

By on August 14, 2015

Coral near Tarawa, Kiribati. (Credit: Linda Wade / NOAA)

Even if civilizations all over the globe manage to bring down their carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels, the excessive amount of carbon currently in the ocean will linger, according to a recent press release from the Carnegie Institution. This is because the ocean is massive and has a great deal of inertia. The ocean system storing the carbon will be slow to change even in the best of future conditions, researchers have found.

Using a computer model, scientists attempted to simulate different carbon dioxide removal scenarios, where they remove carbon dioxide deliberately from the atmosphere at different rates by catching carbon in trees, then burning the trees and storing the carbon deep underground, in an attempt to mitigate current global warming effects.

What they discovered was that if the carbon was removed from the atmosphere beyond a certain time, the inertia of the ocean system holding excess carbon would prevent carbon levels from declining in kind for so long that it was hardly worth removing the carbon in the first place. Ocean inertia means that acidification and warming of the ocean could be difficult, if not impossible to reverse, in the future.

Top image: Coral near Tarawa, Kiribati. (Credit: Linda Wade / NOAA)

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