Bomb-14C Traces Air-Sea CO2 Flux in South China Sea

Chinese Academy of Sciences

Ocean is the largest carbon reservoir on the Earth’s surface, approximately 50 times of atmospheric carbon pool and 20 times of the terrestrial carbon pool. The air-sea CO2 flux is the key to understand the role of ocean on global carbon budget.

A large amount of 14C was injected into the stratosphere due to the atmospheric bomb tests during the 1950s-1960s, and subsequently entered the ocean. The penetrated bomb-14C can be used as a tracer to constrain the air-sea CO2 flux.

Recently, a research team led by Prof. NIU Zhenchuan from the Institute of Earth Environment of the Chinese Academy of Sciences traced the air-sea CO2 flux through the Δ14C observation in the South China Sea.

The researchers measured the Δ14C levels in the atmosphere and seawater dissolved inorganic carbon in this region and compared the current and pre-bomb Δ14C depth profiles to determine the mean penetration depths and the inventories of bomb-14C. Then, they obtained the air-sea CO2 exchange rates as well as the CO2 flux rates combined with the CO2 partial pressure between the ocean surface and the atmosphere.

They also obtained a long-term average air-sea CO2 exchange rate of 20.2±2.8 mol m-2 yr-1, and found that the bomb-14C traced air-sea CO2 flux rate (0.54±0.08 mol m-2 yr-1) was comparable to the measured average flux (0.44±0.62 mol m-2 yr-1) by 47 cruise surveys in the South China Sea.

Additionally, they observed an air-sea Δ14C gradient reversal, that is, Δ14C in the air was higher than that in the surface seawater mainly due to the fossil fuel emissions, and then determined the 14C flux in this region.

Their study showed the ability of bomb-14C to determine the air-sea CO2 flux in the South China Sea. It was published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences on March 16.

In addition to cruise surveys, satellite remote sensing and tower eddy covariance measurement, more various means are needed to accurately understand the size of oceanic carbon sinks in China and provide credible data for the realization of Carbon Neutrality in China.

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