Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Interhemispheric transport of carbon dioxide by ocean circulation

Abstract

ALTHOUGH anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide have today created a greater atmospheric CO2concentration in the Northern than in the Southern Hemisphere, a comparison of interhemispheric CO2 profiles from 1980 and 1962 led Keeling and Heimann1,2 to conclude that, before the Industrial Revolution, natural CO2 sources and sinks acted to set up a reverse (south to north) gradient which drove about one gigatonne of carbon each year through the atmosphere from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere. At steady state, this flux must have been balanced by a counter flow of carbon from north to south through the ocean. Here we present a means to estimate this natural flux by a separation of oceanic carbon anomalies into those created by biogenic processes and those created by CO2 exchange between the ocean and atmosphere. We find that before the Industrial Revolution, deep water formed in the northern Atlantic Ocean carried about 0.6 gigatonnes of carbon annually to the Southern Hemisphere, providing support for Keeling and Heimann's proposal. The existence of this oceanic carbon pump also raises questions about the need for a large terrestrial carbon sink in the Northern Hemisphere, as postulated by Tans et al.3, to balance the present global carbon budget.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1

    Heimann, M. & Keeling, C. D. J. geophys. Res. 91, 7765–7781 (1986).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Keeling, C. D. & Heimann, M. J. geophys. Res. 91, 7782–7796 (1986).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Tans, P. P., Fung, I. Y. & Takahashi, T. Science 247, 1431–1438 (1990).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Broecker, W. S. Oceanography 4, 79–89 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Broecker, W. S., Virgilio, A. & Peng, T.-H. Geophys. Res. Lett. 18, 1–3 (1991).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Takahashi, T., Broecker, W. S. & Langer, S. J. geophys. Res. 90, 6907–6924 (1985).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Broecker, W. S., Takahashi, T. & Takahashi, T. T. J. geophys. Res. 90, 6925–6939 (1985).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Peng, T.-H. & Broecker, W. S. Global biogeochem. Cycles 1, 155–161 (1987).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Broecker, W. S. et al. Global biogeochem. Cycles 5, 87–117 (1991).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Dickson, R. R., Gmitrowicz, E. M. & Watson, A. J. Nature 344, 848–850 (1990).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Bryden, H. L. & Hall, M. M. Science 207, 884–886 (1980).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Brewer, P. G., Goyet, C. & Dyrssen, D. Science 246, 477–479 (1989).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Bainbridge, A. E. GEOSECS Atlantic Ocean Expedition Hydrographic Data VI (NSF, Washington DC, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Broecker, W. S., Spencer, D. W. & Craig, H. GEOSECS Pacific Ocean Expedition Hydrographic Data V3 (NSF, Washington DC 1982).

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Weiss, R. F. et al. GEOSECS Indian Ocean Expedition Hydrographic Data V5 (NSF, Washington DC, 1983).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Transient Tracers in the Ocean, North Atlantic Study, Shipboard Phys. chem. Data Rep. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, 1986).

  17. 17

    CSS Hudson Cruise 82–001. Vol. 1, Phys. chem. Data Rep. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, 1984).

  18. 18

    Transient Tracers in the Ocean Tropical Atlantic Study, Shipboard Phys. chem. Data Rep. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, 1986).

  19. 19

    South Atlantic Ventilation Experiment, Preliminary Shipboard Chem. Phys. Data Rep. (Legs 1–5) (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, 1988–1989).

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Broecker, W., Peng, TH. Interhemispheric transport of carbon dioxide by ocean circulation. Nature 356, 587–589 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1038/356587a0

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing