A new study funded in part by the Climate Program Office’s Climate Observations and Monitoring (COM) Program combines ocean observations and models to improve our predictions of how atmospheric carbon emitted by humans will be absorbed by the ocean in the future. COM-supported scientist Galen McKinley of Columbia University led an international research team to investigate how to reduce uncertainty in modeling carbon storage under low, intermediate, and high future emission scenarios. This work was funded by COM in an effort to mesh the observation and modeling communities to improve atmospheric process understanding.
Since humans began emitting carbon, the ocean has absorbed about a quarter of the emissions, slowing the effects of warming in the atmosphere. Estimates using different models of ocean carbon storage up to 2100 show a wide range of uncertainty, which leads to errors in the representation of ocean physics and biogeochemistry as well. The results of this study, published in Environmental Research Letters, demonstrate that about half of this uncertainty can be corrected when the model is adjusted according to present-day ocean observations of air-sea fluxes. This work showcases the value of collaboration between observations and modeling to improve our understanding of air-sea interactions in a changing climate and how to mitigate impacts on regional to global scales.