Simulated 21st century's increase in oceanic suboxia by CO2-enhanced biotic carbon export

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Oschlies, A, Schulz, KG, Riebesell, U & Schmittner, A 2008, 'Simulated 21st century's increase in oceanic suboxia by CO2-enhanced biotic carbon export', Global Biogeochemical Cycles, vol. 22, no. 4.

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The primary impacts of anthropogenic CO2 emissions on marine biogeochemical cycles predicted so far include ocean acidification, global warming induced shifts in biogeographical provinces, and a possible negative feedback on atmospheric CO2 levels by CO2-fertilized biological production. Here we report a new potentially significant impact on the oxygen-minimum zones of the tropical oceans. Using a model of global climate, ocean circulation, and biogeochemical cycling, we extrapolate mesocosm-derived experimental findings of a pCO2-sensitive increase in biotic carbon-to-nitrogen drawdown to the global ocean. For a simulation run from the onset of the industrial revolution until A.D. 2100 under a “business-as-usual” scenario for anthropogenic CO2 emissions, our model predicts a negative feedback on atmospheric CO2 levels, which amounts to 34 Gt C by the end of this century. While this represents a small alteration of the anthropogenic perturbation of the carbon cycle, the model results reveal a dramatic 50% increase in the suboxic water volume by the end of this century in response to the respiration of excess organic carbon formed at higher CO2 levels. This is a significant expansion of the marine “dead zones” with severe implications not only for all higher life forms but also for oxygen-sensitive nutrient recycling and, hence, for oceanic nutrient inventories.