David T. Ho uses KaleidaGraph in his research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa

Humans currently put about 8 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, mainly from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation. About a quarter is absorbed by the world’s oceans, and a quarter by plants or other components of land. The rest stays in the air, which is why atmospheric CO2 has been rising since the industrial revolution and the average global temperature is rising. However, there is substantial variability in air to sea CO2 while others absorb it. (The Southern Ocean usually absorbs it.)

SOLAS (Surface Ocean-Lower Atmosphere Study) is an international research program whose aim is to understand key biogeochemical-physical interactions and feedbacks between the ocean and atmosphere, and how this coupled system affects and is affected by climate and environment changes. David Ho from the University of Hawaii at Manoa has participated in two SOLAS cruises in the Southern Ocean. In one of them where Ho was the chief scientist, about 30 scientists from over a dozen institutions focused their study in an area in the western Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean, more than 1000 miles east of Punta Arenas, aboard the 274-foot NOAA ship Ronald Brown. Here, high, freezing winds unimpeded by landmasses roar much of the time, and waves can routinely top 30 feet. “The conditions were a little grim, but they were ideal for the study,” said Ho. He said that higher wind speeds correlate with faster exchange of gases, but there have been few studies aimed at directly measuring these exchanges under real-world conditions. The scientists say that wind itself does not drive gas exchange; the drivers are hard-to-observe phenomena driven by the wind, including turbulence and bubbles created by breaking waves. To examine these mechanisms, the scientists deployed arrays of sophisticated instruments just above the water surface, and in the water column.

In another study led by scientists from New Zealand, the team tried to stimulate the growth of plankton by fertilizing the ocean with iron sulfate over a 50 square kilometer area of the ocean in the hopes of providing an enhancement of gas fluxes that would last several weeks.

To get the full picture of how the oceans will affect and respond to climate change we also need to consider biology and simple plankton in the ocean that drive the biological pumping of CO2 through photosynthesis. It is not just carbon dioxide that needs to be considered. The plankton in the ocean could also play a role in climate change by emitting the gas dimethylsulphide (DMS). This potentially affects the properties of aerosols that govern the extent and reflectivity of marine cloud cover. Even modest changes of DMS emission could have significant effects on global temperature.

Only by understanding the physical, biological, and chemical processes governing the interchange of gases, can we confidently predict timing and magnitude of future changes to climate.

The School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa was established by the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii in 1988 in recognition of the need to realign and further strengthen the excellent education and research resources available within the university. SOEST brings together four academic departments, three research institutes, several federal cooperative programs, and support facilities of the highest quality in the nation to meet challenges in the ocean, earth, and planetary sciences and technologies.

The information above contains excerpts from the Columbia University website (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/user/david) and the NIWA website (http://www.niwa.co.nz/abb/research-projects/plankton-biodiversity-in-the-southern-ocean).

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