Massive Whirlpools Create Funnels in Southern Ocean that Sink Carbon

By Chelsea Whyte on July 31, 2012 2:07 AM EDT

eddy
Ocean eddies sink an enormous amount of carbon in the Southern Ocean. (Photo: NASA)

Around 40 percent of the annual global carbon dioxide emissions absorbed by the world's oceans enter the water through the Southern Ocean that encircles Antarctica. Reporting this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, British and Australian scientists reveal that rather than carbon being absorbed uniformly into the deep ocean in vast areas, it is drawn down and locked away from the atmosphere by plunging currents a hundreds of miles wide.

Massive whirlpools create funnels in the ocean, where carbon sinks and is stored.  It is the role of these eddies, the winds and the currents that carry warm and cold water around the ocean and helps in creating localized pathways or funnels for storage of carbon deep beneath, reports the French Tribune.

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"The Southern Ocean is a large window by which the atmosphere connects to the interior of the ocean below," said lead author Jean-Baptiste Sallée from British Antarctic Survey. "Until now we didn't know exactly the physical processes of how carbon ends up being stored deep in the ocean. It's the combination of winds, currents and eddies that create these carbon-capturing pathways drawing waters down into the deep ocean from the ocean surface."

Australia's national research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the British Antarctic Survey used data from robotic probes to find out what makes the giant funnels and currents which suck water downwards.

In 2002, 80 floats were deployed in the Southern Ocean to collect information on the temperature and salinity. This unique set of observations spanning 10 years has enabled scientists to investigate this remote region of the world for the first time.

Today, there are over 3,000 floats in the oceans worldwide - each about 3 feet in length and able to dive over a mile down.

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