Carbon's ebbs and flows probed

June 6, 1997

Julia Hinde marks World Oceans' Day with a trawl of marine research

The role of oceans in preventing global warming is being assessed by British scientists who are taking their expertise to the bottom of the sea.

Researchers from the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory in Oban, Scotland, comprise one of eight British teams joining groups from 17 other nations in the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study, a multi-million dollar investigation of the global carbon cycle.

The Scottish scientists are attempting to discover how much carbon dioxide, which enters the surface layers of the oceans either by being dissolved in cold water or by being absorbed by plants and animals as they photosynthesise and breath, is transferred to deeper levels.

There it can be locked away for thousands of years in circulation systems or in sediments, thus not contributing to the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and associated global warming.

Using specially designed benthic landers, similar to lunar landers, to sit almost 5,000 feet down on the northeast Atlantic ocean floor, the Scottish team is measuring the quantities of carbon arriving. This is done by monitoring the rate of chemical reaction close to the sea floor.

Dr Graham Shimmield, director of the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences, said: "A major role of the deep NE Atlantic is to control the fate of carbon from the spring bloom. This work will document the importance of sediment biogeochemistry in the carbon cycle."

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