Articles | Volume 10, issue 10
Reviews and syntheses
15 Oct 2013
Reviews and syntheses |  | 15 Oct 2013

Air–sea exchanges of CO2 in the world's coastal seas

C.-T. A. Chen, T.-H. Huang, Y.-C. Chen, Y. Bai, X. He, and Y. Kang

Abstract. The air–sea exchanges of CO2 in the world's 165 estuaries and 87 continental shelves are evaluated. Generally and in all seasons, upper estuaries with salinities of less than two are strong sources of CO2 (39 ± 56 mol C m−2 yr−1, positive flux indicates that the water is losing CO2 to the atmosphere); mid-estuaries with salinities of between 2 and 25 are moderate sources (17.5 ± 34 mol C m−2 yr−1) and lower estuaries with salinities of more than 25 are weak sources (8.4 ± 14 mol C m−2 yr−1). With respect to latitude, estuaries between 23.5 and 50° N have the largest flux per unit area (63 ± 101 mmol C m−2 d−1); these are followed by lower-latitude estuaries (23.5–0° S: 44 ± 29 mmol C m−2 d−1; 0–23.5° N: 39 ± 55 mmol C m−2 d−1), and then regions north of 50° N (36 ± 91 mmol C m−2 d−1). Estuaries south of 50° S have the smallest flux per unit area (9.5 ± 12 mmol C m−2 d−1). Mixing with low-pCO2 shelf waters, water temperature, residence time and the complexity of the biogeochemistry are major factors that govern the pCO2 in estuaries, but wind speed, seldom discussed, is critical to controlling the air–water exchanges of CO2. The total annual release of CO2 from the world's estuaries is now estimated to be 0.10 Pg C yr−1, which is much lower than published values mainly because of the contribution of a considerable amount of heretofore unpublished or new data from Asia and the Arctic. The Asian data, although indicating high pCO2, are low in sea-to-air fluxes because of low wind speeds. Previously determined flux values rely heavily on data from Europe and North America, where pCO2 is lower but wind speeds are much higher, such that the CO2 fluxes are higher than in Asia. Newly emerged CO2 flux data in the Arctic reveal that estuaries there mostly absorb rather than release CO2.

Most continental shelves, and especially those at high latitude, are undersaturated in terms of CO2 and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere in all seasons. Shelves between 0 and 23.5° S are on average a weak source and have a small flux per unit area of CO2 to the atmosphere. Water temperature, the spreading of river plumes, upwelling, and biological production seem to be the main factors in determining pCO2 in the shelves. Wind speed, again, is critical because at high latitudes, the winds tend to be strong. Since the surface water pCO2 values are low, the air-to-sea fluxes are high in regions above 50° N and below 50° S. At low latitudes, the winds tend to be weak, so the sea-to-air CO2 flux is small. Overall, the world's continental shelves absorb 0.4 Pg C yr−1 from the atmosphere.

Final-revised paper