The ozone hole above the Southern Ocean (a major carbon sink), researchers deem, is responsible for the drop in carbon dioxide (CO2) absorption.
In theory, oceans should absorb more CO2 as levels of the gas in the atmosphere rise. Measurements show that this is happening in most ocean regions, but strangely not in the Southern Ocean, where carbon absorption has flattened off.
AdvertisementClimate models fail to reproduce this puzzling pattern.
The Southern Ocean is a major carbon sink, guzzling around 15 per cent of CO2 emissions. However, between 1987 and 2004, carbon uptake in the region was reduced by nearly 2.5 billion tonnes - equivalent to the amount of carbon that all the world's oceans absorb in one year.
According to a report in New Scientist, to figure out what is going on, Andrew Lenton, from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, France, and his colleagues created a coupled ocean and atmosphere climate model, to investigate carbon absorption in oceans.
Crucially, they included changes in the concentration of stratospheric ozone since 1975.
By running their model with and without the ozone depletion since 1975, Lenton and his colleagues were able to show that the ozone hole is responsible for the Southern Ocean's carbon saturation.
The effect could be down to the way decreasing stratospheric ozone and rising greenhouse gases are altering the radiation balance of the Earth's atmosphere.
This has been predicted to alter and strengthen the westerly winds that blow over the Southern Ocean.
"We expected this transition to a windier regime, but it has occurred much earlier than we thought, seemingly because of the ozone hole," said Lenton.
"This result illustrates how complex the chain of cause and effect can be in the Earth system. No one would ever have predicted from first principles that increasing CFCs would have the effect of decreasing uptake of ocean carbon dioxide," said Watson.
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