University of Delaware
delware environmental institute

Coastal water absorbing more carbon dioxide, UD researcher reports

As we chug down the road in our cars and inch the thermostat upward to warm our homes in winter, carbon dioxide is released into the air. This has been happening since the Industrial Revolution. As more carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, the global ocean soaks up much of the excess, storing roughly 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions coming from human activities. In this sense, the ocean has acted as a buffer to slow down the greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere and, thus, global warming.

However, this process also increases the acidity of seawater and can affect the health of marine organisms and the ocean ecosystem. New research by University of Delaware oceanographer Wei-Jun Cai and colleagues at Université Libre de Bruxelles, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, University of Hawaii at Manoa and ETH Zurich, now reveals that the water over the continental shelves is shouldering a larger portion of the load, taking up more and more of this atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The study findings, published in Nature Communications on Wednesday, Jan. 31, may have important implications for scientists focused on understanding the global carbon budget.

Understanding how carbon flows between land, air and water is key to predicting how much greenhouse gas emissions the earth, atmosphere and ocean can tolerate over a given time period to keep global warming and climate change at thresholds considered tolerable.