The impact on atmospheric CO2 of iron fertilization induced changes in the ocean's biological pump
Abstract. Using numerical simulations, we quantify the impact of changes in the ocean's biological pump on the air-sea balance of CO2 by fertilizing a small surface patch in the high-nutrient, low-chlorophyll region of the eastern tropical Pacific with iron. Decade-long fertilization experiments are conducted in a basin-scale, eddy-permitting coupled physical/biogeochemical/ecological model. In contrast to previous studies, we find that most of the dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) removed from the euphotic zone by the enhanced biological export is replaced by uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere. Atmospheric uptake efficiencies, the ratio of the perturbation in air-sea CO2 flux to the perturbation in export flux across 100 m, integrated over 10 years, are 0.75 to 0.93 in our patch size-scale experiments. The atmospheric uptake efficiency is insensitive to the duration of the experiment. The primary factor controlling the atmospheric uptake efficiency is the vertical distribution of the enhanced biological production and export. Iron fertilization at the surface tends to induce production anomalies primarily near the surface, leading to high efficiencies. In contrast, mechanisms that induce deep production anomalies (e.g. altered light availability) tend to have a low uptake efficiency, since most of the removed DIC is replaced by lateral and vertical transport and mixing. Despite high atmospheric uptake efficiencies, patch-scale iron fertilization of the ocean's biological pump tends to remove little CO2 from the atmosphere over the decadal timescale considered here.