Voyage to Southern Ocean aims to study air-sea fluxes of greenhouse gases

February 26, 2008

Scientists will embark this week from Punta Arenas, Chile, on the tip of South America, to spend 42 days amid the high winds and waves of the Southern Ocean. Here they hope to make groundbreaking measurements to explain how huge fluxes of climate-affecting gases move between atmosphere and sea, and vice-versa.

The cruise, which departs Feb. 28, should provide important information on how the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide moves between the ocean and atmosphere, said the cruise's chief scientist, David Ho of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Comprising 30 percent of global seas, "the Southern Ocean is a source of great uncertainty," he said. "So it's potentially important to our understanding of the global system."

Humans put about 6 billion metric tons of CO2 into the air each year, mainly by fossil-fuel burning and deforestation. About a third is thought to be absorbed by oceans, and a third by plants or other components of land. The rest stays in the air--much of the reason why atmospheric CO2 is now building and climate is warming. However, there are huge uncertainties in the calculations--made so far mostly through indirect means--and fluxes seem highly variable from year to year, with some parts of the oceans habitually giving up CO2 while others absorb it. (The Southern Ocean usually absorbs it.) "Understanding how atmospheric carbon dioxide reacts with these cold surface waters is important for determining how the ocean uptake of carbon dioxide will respond to future climate change," said Christopher Sabine, an oceanographer at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA, NASA and the National Science Foundation are cosponsoring the cruise.

About 30 scientists from over a dozen institutions will traverse an area above Antarctica more than 1,000 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 are a little grim, but it's ideal for 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 speed itself probably does not drive gas exchange; the drivers are hard-to-observe phenomena driven by the wind, including turbulence and bubbles created by cresting waves. Another factor is the amount of phytoplankton taking CO2 from the water, which is usually measured by color. To figure out what is going on, the crew will dangle arrays of complicated instruments just above the water surface, and in the water column. "That will be a challenge, since the bow will be plunging off those big waves," noted Sabine.

"NASA's ongoing effort to understand the global carbon cycle will benefit from the data this cruise will produce," said Paula Bontempi, manager of NASA's ocean biology and biogeochemistry research program. "NASA's global satellite observations of ocean color will be improved, as we validate what our space-based sensors see with direct measurements taken at sea."
-end-
The scientists will be available for satellite-phone interviews, and will feed a daily blog to the expedition's website: http://so-gasex.org.

INFORMATION FOR JOURNALISTS:

The ship's daily blog at http://so-gasex.org will include pictures, video and audio.

Email contacts before cruise and at sea:
David Ho: david@ldeo.columbia.edu
Christopher Sabine chris.sabine@noaa.gov

For more contacts and information, including satellite telephone interviews from sea:
Kevin Krajick, The Earth Institute, Columbia University. kkrajick@ei.columbia.edu office 212- 854-9729 mobile 917-361-7766

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of the Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines--earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering, social sciences and health--and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the poor. www.earth.columbia.edu.

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute, is one of the world's leading research centers seeking fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world. More than 300 research scientists study the planet from its deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and in every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, nonrenewable resources, environmental hazards and beyond, Observatory scientists provide a rational basis for the difficult choices facing humankind in the planet's stewardship. www.ldeo.columbia.edu.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Related Atmosphere Articles from Brightsurf:

ALMA shows volcanic impact on Io's atmosphere
New radio images from ALMA show for the first time the direct effect of volcanic activity on the atmosphere of Jupiter's moon Io.

New study detects ringing of the global atmosphere
A ringing bell vibrates simultaneously at a low-pitched fundamental tone and at many higher-pitched overtones, producing a pleasant musical sound. A recent study, just published in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences by scientists at Kyoto University and the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, shows that the Earth's entire atmosphere vibrates in an analogous manner, in a striking confirmation of theories developed by physicists over the last two centuries.

Estuaries are warming at twice the rate of oceans and atmosphere
A 12-year study of 166 estuaries in south-east Australia shows that the waters of lakes, creeks, rivers and lagoons increased 2.16 degrees in temperature and increased acidity.

What makes Saturn's atmosphere so hot
New analysis of data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft found that electric currents, triggered by interactions between solar winds and charged particles from Saturn's moons, spark the auroras and heat the planet's upper atmosphere.

Galactic cosmic rays affect Titan's atmosphere
Planetary scientists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) revealed the secrets of the atmosphere of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

Physics: An ultrafast glimpse of the photochemistry of the atmosphere
Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have explored the initial consequences of the interaction of light with molecules on the surface of nanoscopic aerosols.

Using lasers to visualize molecular mysteries in our atmosphere
Molecular interactions between gases and liquids underpin much of our lives, but difficulties in measuring gas-liquid collisions have so far prevented the fundamental exploration of these processes.

The atmosphere of a new ultra hot Jupiter is analyzed
The combination of observations made with the CARMENES spectrograph on the 3.5m telescope at Calar Alto Observatory (Almería), and the HARPS-N spectrograph on the National Galileo Telescope (TNG) at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (Garafía, La Palma) has enabled a team from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and from the University of La Laguna (ULL) to reveal new details about this extrasolar planet, which has a surface temperature of around 2000 K.

An exoplanet loses its atmosphere in the form of a tail
A new study, led by scientists from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), reveals that the giant exoplanet WASP-69b carries a comet-like tail made up of helium particles escaping from its gravitational field propelled by the ultraviolet radiation of its star.

Iron and titanium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet
Exoplanets can orbit close to their host star. When the host star is much hotter than our sun, then the exoplanet becomes as hot as a star.

Read More: Atmosphere News and Atmosphere Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.