The fourth segment of the EU4OceanObs ocean observing awareness campaign focuses on ocean carbon observation with focus on the Ocean Thematic Centre of the European research infrastructure ICOS – the Integrated Ocean Carbon System.
Why ocean carbon observations are important?
The ocean is a central part of the Earth’s climate system and acts as a natural carbon sink. Human activities such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation have profoundly altered the Earth’s global carbon cycle, and atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are now higher than experienced on the planet for the past several million years.
The ocean generates 50% of the oxygen on our planet, absorbs 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions and captures 90% of the excess heat generated by these emissions. It is not just ‘the lungs of the planet’ but also its largest ‘carbon sink’ – a vital buffer against the impacts of climate change. – UN Climate Action.
Increasing greenhouse gas emissions have affected the health of the ocean, with detrimental impacts on marine ecosystems and the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide and safeguard all life on the planet.
Understanding underlying ocean carbon processes and how they are impacted by human-produced carbon dioxide emissions is vital. This requires accurately quantifying the human-produced ocean carbon sink. Despite significant scientific advances thanks to satellite observation, in situ observing networks, modelling techniques, the ocean remains chronically under sampled, leaving vast gaps in our knowledge of its behaviour. This lack of data presents a fundamental barrier to understanding, predicting, managing, and adapting to ongoing changes in ocean physics, chemistry, and biology, including ocean carbon content.
“As we attempt to move towards ‘net zero carbon emissions’, we must be able to determine if our actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions are having any impact globally. To do this, we have to tease out how much change is attributable to our actions versus how much is being taken up by the ocean,” says Dr Maria Hood, head of the EU4OceanObs action on the G7 Future of the Seas and Oceans Initiative at Mercator Ocean International. “At present, the uncertainty in the ocean carbon sink is so large and variable that it will be difficult to know if any of our actions are actually having an impact.”