Articles | Volume 10, issue 12
Research article
11 Dec 2013
Research article |  | 11 Dec 2013

Climate change impacts on sea–air fluxes of CO2 in three Arctic seas: a sensitivity study using Earth observation

P. E. Land, J. D. Shutler, R. D. Cowling, D. K. Woolf, P. Walker, H. S. Findlay, R. C. Upstill-Goddard, and C. J. Donlon

Abstract. We applied coincident Earth observation data collected during 2008 and 2009 from multiple sensors (RA2, AATSR and MERIS, mounted on the European Space Agency satellite Envisat) to characterise environmental conditions and integrated sea–air fluxes of CO2 in three Arctic seas (Greenland, Barents, Kara). We assessed net CO2 sink sensitivity due to changes in temperature, salinity and sea ice duration arising from future climate scenarios. During the study period the Greenland and Barents seas were net sinks for atmospheric CO2, with integrated sea–air fluxes of −36 ± 14 and −11 ± 5 Tg C yr−1, respectively, and the Kara Sea was a weak net CO2 source with an integrated sea–air flux of +2.2 ± 1.4 Tg C yr−1. The combined integrated CO2 sea–air flux from all three was −45 ± 18 Tg C yr−1. In a sensitivity analysis we varied temperature, salinity and sea ice duration. Variations in temperature and salinity led to modification of the transfer velocity, solubility and partial pressure of CO2 taking into account the resultant variations in alkalinity and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Our results showed that warming had a strong positive effect on the annual integrated sea–air flux of CO2 (i.e. reducing the sink), freshening had a strong negative effect and reduced sea ice duration had a small but measurable positive effect. In the climate change scenario examined, the effects of warming in just over a decade of climate change up to 2020 outweighed the combined effects of freshening and reduced sea ice duration. Collectively these effects gave an integrated sea–air flux change of +4.0 Tg C in the Greenland Sea, +6.0 Tg C in the Barents Sea and +1.7 Tg C in the Kara Sea, reducing the Greenland and Barents sinks by 11% and 53%, respectively, and increasing the weak Kara Sea source by 81%. Overall, the regional integrated flux changed by +11.7 Tg C, which is a 26% reduction in the regional sink. In terms of CO2 sink strength, we conclude that the Barents Sea is the most susceptible of the three regions to the climate changes examined. Our results imply that the region will cease to be a net CO2 sink in the 2050s.

Final-revised paper