Skip to main content

The role of Southern Ocean Carbon cycle under CLImate change

Periodic Report Summary 1 - SOCCLI (The role of Southern Ocean Carbon cycle under CLImate change)

The project “The role of the Southern Ocean carbon cycle under climate change (SOCCLI)” aims at realizing a high-level staff exchange and networking activity in the field of climate research, in particular ocean carbon cycle research, between key research groups of South Africa (CSIR, NTC-UCT) and Europe (Norway: UiB, NERSC; France: CNRS-IPSL). The topic to be jointly investigated is the Southern Ocean’s role in global carbon cycling as the Southern Ocean has been shown to play a key role in controlling the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration both in the past and the high CO2 state of the Earth system.

The main objective of SOCCLI is to better determine the Southern Ocean’s role in global carbon cycling through establishing and reinforcing long-term research cooperation on marine biogeochemical research between South Africa and European partners. Specific objectives are to: (i) integrate the South African observational data of Southern Ocean surface ocean pCO2 and air-sea CO2 fluxes into worldwide data sets, (ii) understand and quantify the integrated role of short-term variability (sub-seasonal, seasonal, interannual) and mesoscale variability (oceanic eddies) for modulating long-term trends in Southern Ocean CO2 fluxes and associated feedbacks to climate change, (iii) study and assess the long-term sensitivities of the magnitude and phasing of the seasonal cycle of CO2 fluxes in the Southern Ocean to climate forcing, and (iv) disseminate the results in bi-lateral outreach events to policy makers and to large international research programmes (EU projects, South African projects, IGBP core projects SOLAS and IMBER).

Within the first reporting period of SOCCLI (months 1-24), in total 15 secondments were performed, thereof 10 being outgoing and 5 being incoming ones. In addition to the exchange between project beneficiaries and partners, one secondment was performed in July 2013 between two European beneficiaries (CNRS-IPSL visiting UiB). Main results achieved so far include: A small workshop that was organized at the Cape Town water front, which focussed on data (temperature, salinity, oxygen, Chl, surface velocities) from first 2 gliders deployed as part of the SOSCEx field work (cooperation between CSIR and CNRS-IPSL). An ocean general circulation model with different grid resolutions was employed to interpret and use the field observations for simulations of the mixed-layer depth and seasonal variability. The NEMO-PISCES coupled physical-biogeochemical model was used for elucidating the link between mixed-layer depth, chlorophyll and CO2 fluxes. Further, a joint workshop on statistical methods for deriving CO2 fluxes from observations in the Southern Ocean was performed at CSIR. Two statistical methods, gridding and neural networks, were compared. Work on the analysis of the Southern Ocean carbon sink behavior for selected IPCC AR5 scenarios in the CNRS-IPSL and NorESM Earth system models and the respective comparison with measurements has started (CSIR, UiB, CNRS-IPSL). The investigation focused on the impact of the physical pump on the seasonal cycle of oxygen and carbon fluxes with respect to present and future, climate change affected, conditions. So far, this work yielded mainly preliminary results on the influence of the physical pump for present conditions. The cooperation between NERSC and NTC-UCT has led to considerable improvement of the physical ocean model HYCOM. A manuscript about the improvement of the representation of mesoscale variability in regional ocean models by assimilating satellite observations into a dynamical ocean model was published. New experiments were started to implement the assimilation of satellite sea surface temperature (SST) measurements for the greater Agulhas Current region. The joint ICEMASA, NTC and MA-RE/UCT workshop on Global Change and Southern African Marine Ecosystem Research took place at UCT from 8 - 10 April 2014. The aim of the workshop was to view the marine research horizon in a different dimension, and in the future a synthesized research strategy document for marine science will be produced to facilitate planning for research proposals, and key research groups will be identified that will address marine research issues at an international level.

Through SOCCLI, already existing cooperation between the partner institutions is fostered and new links will be established by involving also early stage researchers. The staff exchange provides a very efficient opportunity to promote joint publications and to optimally exploit the complementary expertise. The project is embedded in and linked with important European collaborative projects such as EU FP7 project CARBOCHANGE as well as with large international research projects.

Regarding the expected final results and their potential impact and use (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far), SOCCLI aims at contributing to the following tasks: (i) The joint south African-European work will provide new process-based insights into the functioning of the coupled physical-biogeochemical system of the Southern Ocean within the Southern Ocean. (ii) The combination of field data and a hierarchy of models will establish relationships between physical mixing, mixed layer depth, and mesoscale variability for controlling biological production and coupled oxygen-carbon fluxes in the Southern Ocean. (iii) The Southern Ocean is considered as the emerging dominating sink for anthropogenic carbon within the world ocean. An improved simulation of this sink is mandatory for adequate future projections using Earth system models. The correct quantification of the Southern Ocean carbon sink is important especially for estimating greenhouse gas emission reductions appropriately in order to meet given climate mitigation targets. (iv) Research supported by SOCCLI will contribute significantly to the development of operational oceanography in South Africa, benefitting marine environmental monitoring, safety and resources (including fisheries), extreme weather prediction as well as climate and seasonal forecasting activities. The research will generate new knowledge of real management and policy relevance, supporting the local fishery that in turn provides jobs and food and generates tourism. Throughout the course of the project, outreach events with policy makers both in Europe and South Africa will provide the respective communities with essential material for informed decisions on greenhouse gas emission reductions and mitigation of climate change.