Carbon dioxide & the Southern Ocean

Icebergs in Terra Nova bay at sunset

Seasonality of Southern Ocean dynamics from Antarctic radiocarbon observations

It’s common knowledge that burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. It’s less well-known that only about half of it stays there. Plants, soil and oceans all act as “carbon sinks” absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The Southern Ocean is one of the largest and most important carbon sinks in the world, taking in roughly 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. By measuring a unique isotope called radiocarbon, this fact can be used to our advantage. We’ll collect air samples from Arrival Heights in Antarctica, Baring Head in Wellington, and on ships travelling between New Zealand and Antarctica (much easier than collecting samples during the Antarctic winter). Together with information gathered from tree rings in New Zealand’s Sub-Antarctic islands, we’ll use these samples to determine information about circulation in the Southern Ocean that we can’t obtain any other way.

This will result in a better understanding of the Southern Ocean’s processes, improved simulations by the NZ Earth System Model and more accurate predictions of New Zealand’s climate. Because the Southern Ocean is the biggest carbon sink in the world, and ocean circulation plays a big role in this climate system, this research will also have a substantial impact on international research and global climate modelling.

Project contact: Jocelyn Turnbull, GNS Science
Project budget: $197,000
Project duration: 3 years – over two Antarctic winters

This project in the media:
Kiwi research into Southern Ocean could change global warming predictions, Stuff.co.nz
Antarctic climate riddle could be solved by Kiwis, NZ Herald

 

 

Return to the Processes and Observations programme page
Check out the full list of Deep South Challenge projects​​​​​​​

Latest news and updates

Creating a climate-safe Dunedin through community-driven climate action

2018 may well be the year New Zealand gets serious about adapting to our changing climate. Last year, and the start of this one, gave all of us plenty of opportunities to experience a future in which creeping sea level rise and extreme weather – from drought to flood to surprise storm surges – make day-to-day life more precarious and more expensive.

Stormwater, wastewater and climate change: Impacts on our economy, environment, culture and society

In October 2017, the Deep South Challenge released a report into the state of the nation’s storm and waste water infrastructure, in the face of a changing climate. The report garnered significant media attention – not surprising given the infrastructure is currently valued at well over $20 billion.

The Deep South Challenge awards funding to investigate climate-resilient, high-value crops for the whānau of Omaio

The whānau of Omaio in the Bay of Plenty have joined forces with NIWA researchers to explore the viability of climate-resilient, high-value crops for the rohe. The group has won a $250,000 research grant under the Vision Mātauranga programme of the Deep South National Science Challenge to better understand Omaio’s changing climate and how it might support the community to create a local economy based around a high-value product like kiwi fruit.