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New techniques to help understand the ocean

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Eddy covariance equipment, optics rig and radiometers
As the initial phase of the AMT4OceanSatFlux project comes to a close, a final report has been produced highlighting some of the key achievements of the research.

The primary objective of the project was to obtain accurate measurements of the air-sea flux of CO2, which are essential for understanding the role of the oceans in mitigating anthropogenic climate change. To achieve this, AMT4OceanSatFlux used a new technique, deploying cutting edge instrumentation to directly measure CO2 flux, alongside state of the art calculations from satellite products simultaneously captured over the Atlantic Ocean. Assessing the performance of satellite measurements of CO2 flux with this high quality in situ data allows us to use these satellite estimates with greater confidence. A global perspective of ocean sources and sinks of CO2 that can be obtained from satellite data, can be used to address large scale issues and scientific questions on the effects of climate change.

Measurements of CO2 in air and seawater have been made on Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT) field campaigns for over a decade, however direct estimates of CO2 flux have not been possible until now. Using an eddy covariance technique, where high frequency measurements of wind velocity are used to determine the vertical flux of gases, AMT4OceanSatFlux was able to directly measure the air-sea flux of CO2

To date the oceans have absorbed around 25% of all human generated CO2, which has helped to slow the impact of climate change on land, but is fundamentally changing the chemistry of the ocean. Long-term absorption of atmospheric CO2 is causing a gradual decrease in seawater pH, a phenomenon called ocean acidification. This is having an adverse effect on many important marine species such as corals, oysters, crabs and plankton. AMT4OceanSatFlux have developed and evaluated algorithms that estimate pH, CO2 levels in the water and aragonite saturation state - the chemical that many organisms need to build their skeletons and shells. In this project, Satellite data is being used to identify areas of the ocean that are most at risk from acidification.

Another major strength of the project is that measurements of gas exchange are complemented by a suite of underway measurements including sea surface temperature, ocean surface roughness, and phytoplankton chlorophyll to quantify the biological component of the ocean carbonate chemistry and cycling of CO2. Phytoplankton production provides direct linkage to the oceans capturing and locking up CO2. This parameter can also be derived from satellite measurements of ocean colour. There are many ocean colour products available. However, the most accurate of these need to be selected for use in linking to the CO2 flux, to and from the ocean. AMT4OceanSatFlux has undertaken a rigorous performance assessment to select the most suitable phytoplankton product for different waters. This utilised in situ data from three AMT cruises, equating to over one million data points with over 800 match-ups with satellite observations. AMT is an ideal platform as the ship passes through a huge range of environmental conditions and water types, including the infrequently sampled oligotrophic gyres. This work represents a significant advance in data from the oligotrophic regions and has resulted in recommendations on which Copernicus Sentinel 3A and 3B OLCI (Ocean and Land Colour Instrument) products perform best in the sparsely sampled Atlantic gyres.

The techniques and algorithms developed by AMT4OceanSatFlux will continue to be used into the future to provide high quality in situ and satellite data to help understand the cycling of carbon in the ocean and atmosphere.

Related Information

For further information see the list of AMT4OceanSatFlux publications.