Field: Climate change monitoring
Global Technical function: Sensing
Technical Function Unit: Data analysing, Identifying, In situ chemical sensing, Information and observation system, Modelling, Networking, Strategic planning
Geographic Area: Norway


Absorbing large amounts of atmospheric CO2, the oceans are large and important buffering zones in the Earth system. A correct quantification of the present uptake is not only vital to map the current patterns, but also to ensure relevant estimates of how large the future marine uptake of CO2 will be and how these patterns will change. The needs for relevant data have been noted by the European Commission, funding two subsequent projects on the subject of marine carbon uptake coordinated by the University of Bergen in Norway.

A former project, CARBOOCEAN, was financed within the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), a grant funding programme, and finalized in 2009. This integrated project focused on the North Atlantic and Southern Oceans, which are the pivotal areas for ocean water sinking and upwelling as part of the meridional overturning circulation. In these areas, carbon-rich surface water is mixed with deep water with lower carbon content. During the project, data on marine carbon cycling  were obtained through several components; in situ chemical sensing devices mounted on voluntary ships, research vessels, time series stations, drifting buoys, satellites, and mesocosm experiments. As the methods and technical equipment used in this research project are continuously developed and improved, a technology readiness level for the whole project cannot be established. However,  the surface ocean CO2 partial pressure methodology using automatized instruments estimated to reach a level 8 on the TRL scale.

Data were used in coupled physical-biogeochemical ocean models as well as earth system climate modelling systems to predict the marine carbon cycle climate feedback, ranging from -200 to +200 years from now. The results from the data analysing project activities have indeed brought clarity to how the ocean is functioning as a CO2 buffer, and the data are also useful in relation to acidification studies and the development of future carbon- and climate change monitoring systems. Among many other vital results, the project team discovered that the carbon uptake of the areas in question vary widely from year to year. All the project results have been summarized in a large number of peer-reviewed publications as well as an information-movie which is available online on the project website.

The variability and further evolution of the ocean as a carbon sink are now further investigated in project CARBOCHANGE. The four-year project started in 2011 and is funded through the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which is also a grant funding programme..  Prediction of the future marine carbon uptake will build on the results from the previous project, identifying and quantifying the global and regional patterns under a variety of emission scenarios in a changing climate framework. The on-going project is gathering data through an updated observational network based on an

information and observation system with similar sensing solutions, measurements and analysis as the CARBOOCEAN project, and will combine the incoming observations systematically with simulations using a number of different data assimilation techniques. The observational data will thus be used for improving the models in order to ensure better simulations of the past, present, and future carbon uptake of the oceans.   

A number of the partners from the CARBOOCEAN consortium are now also engaged in the on-going project. All project partners are scientific organisations, involving altogether more than 100 scientists from 29 partner institutions in 15 countries. Results are continuously fed into networks, other projects and into the strategic planning process of policy-making actors via scientists tied to the project, also contributing to global actions such as the IPCC assessment reports. As a matter of fact, research projects on carbon uptake are generally closely linked to each other both on a personal and an organisational dimension; there are a number of large international research programmes (such as the IGBP core projects SOLAS and IMBER) and overarching projects (such as the Global Carbon Project GCP) where different actors can meet and share results and findings in networking activities.