Oceans are critical to the climate change dynamic, absorbing about 25 percent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions annually. Now a research team from Britain and Australia have discovered one way that all that carbon gets locked away. In a study published in Nature Geoscience, they report that wind, eddies, and currents in the Southern Ocean work together to create huge carbon-sucking funnels. Some 40 percent of that locked-away carbon is in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.
Using 10 years of data obtained from deep-sea robotic probes, the researchers found five whirlpool-like funnels some 60 miles in diameter. “We found in the Southern Ocean there are five such funnels," study author Jean-Baptiste Sallee told AFP. "This is a very efficient process to bring carbon from the surface to the interior.” As for how climate change will affect these eddies, Sallee says: “We have no idea." Global warming theoretically could “affect the nature and effect of the Southern Ocean eddies by changing ocean currents, intensifying winds, or creating stark temperature spikes.”
Image by iStock/cunfek
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”