Organic Oily Scum On Ocean’s Surface Reduces Carbon Uptake By Half

There's an invisible layer of scum on the ocean's surface that prevents carbon dioxide from being absorbed.

An invisible layer of biological compounds on the sea surface reduces the rate at which carbon dioxide gas moves between the atmosphere and the oceans, scientists have reported.

Surfactants are organic compounds produced by marine plankton and bacteria that form an oily film on the surface of the water.

Publishing their findings today in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists from Newcastle, Heriot-Watt and Exeter universities say the findings have major implications for predicting our future climate.

The world’s oceans currently absorb around a quarter of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, making them the largest long-term sink of carbon on Earth.

Atmosphere-ocean gas exchange is controlled by turbulence at the sea surface, the main cause of which is waves generated by wind. Greater turbulence means increased gas exchange and, until now, it was difficult to calculate the effect of biological surfactants on this exchange.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Leverhulme Trust and European Space Agency funded team developed a novel experimental system that directly compares “the surfactant effect” between different sea waters collected along oceanographic cruises, in real time.

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