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Ocean's carbon-sucking funnels

Ocean's carbon-sucking funnels

Mon July 30, 2012 7:03am

SCIENTISTS have unravelled the mechanism by which Earth-warming carbon is sucked deep into the ocean to be safely locked away.

Wind, currents and eddies (a current running opposite to the main current) work together to create carbon-sucking funnels, said the research team from Britain and Australia in a discovery that adds to the toolkit of scientists attempting climate warming predictions.

About a quarter of the carbon dioxide on Earth is stored away in its oceans - some 40 per cent of that in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica.

At a depth of about 1000 metres, carbon can be locked away for hundreds to thousands of years, yet scientists had never been sure exactly how it gets there after dissolving into surface waters.

They had suspected the wind was the main force at play, pooling up surface water in some areas and forcing it down into the ocean depths.

Using 10 years of data obtained from small, deep-sea robotic probes, the researchers found that in addition to the wind, eddies - big whirlpool-like phenomena about 100km in diameter on average, also played a part.

"You add the effect of these eddies and the effect of the wind and the effect of prominent currents in the Southern Ocean, you add these three effects, it makes ... 100km-wide funnels that bring the carbon from the sea surface to the interior," study author Jean-Baptiste Sallee told AFP.

The team had also used temperature, salinity and pressure data collected from ship-based observations since the 1990s.

"This is a very efficient process to bring carbon from the surface to the interior. We found in the Southern Ocean there are five such funnels," said Sallee.

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