Southern Ocean Carbon

The future and consequences of Southern Ocean carbon uptake

Recent studies have highlighted the sensitivity of the global carbon cycle to changes in the Southern Ocean. Climate models suggest the Southern Ocean uptake of carbon dioxide will decrease as a result of changes in circulation and stratification caused by enhanced greenhouse warming, providing another potential positive feedback for climate change (Sarmiento et al., 1998). More surface carbon observations are needed to improve the spatial coverage to reduce the uncertainty in estimates of the air-sea flux of CO2. However, the Southern Ocean will remain a large conduit for the uptake and global distribution of anthropogenic carbon to the global oceans (Tjiputra et al., 2010). Full water column sections of carbon, oxygen, nutrients and physical variables are needed to track the evolving inventory of anthropogenic CO2 and other properties related to the carbon and biogeochemical cycles. The uptake of carbon by the ocean results in acidification and changes in carbonate chemistry that will likely have significant consequences for biological and biogeochemical processes in the ocean. 

Priority Observations

At the 2013 Scientific Steering Committee meeting in Shanghai, China, the SOOS Steering Committee identified the top gaps in observations for each of the 6 SOOS Science Themes that should be identified as "priority observations" for the coming years. SOOS encourages the community to develop field initiatives to address these key gaps and to highlight their contribution to the international SOOS effort through SOOS endorsement or other connections.


Theme 4 Priority Observations:

  • Filling temporal/spatial gaps (using autonomous platforms)
  • Ensuring all ships are taking validated measurements of essential variables
  • Development of time series measurements near coastal Antarctic stations

Observation Platforms

Gliders, underway observations from ships, CO2 repeat hydrography, moorings

Key Communities


  1. International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project (IOCCP)
  2. SCAR Action Group on Ocean Acidification



  1. GO-SHIP
  3. SOSCEx


Key Documents

Cited References

  1. Sarmiento, J.L., Hughes, T.M.C., Stouffer, R.J. and Manabe, S., 1998: Simulated response of the ocean carbon cycle to anthropogenic climate warming, Nature, 393: 245-249
  2. Tjiputra, J.F., Assmann, K. and Heinze, C, 2010: Anthropogenic carbon dynamics in the changing ocean, Ocean Sciences 6: 605-614
Copyright 2015 Southern Ocean Observing System. All rights reserved.