Climate Dynamics

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 151-168

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Ocean dynamics determine the response of oceanic CO2 uptake to climate change

  • T. CruegerAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Meteorology Email author 
  • , E. RoecknerAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Meteorology
  • , T. RaddatzAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Meteorology
  • , R. SchnurAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Meteorology
  • , P. WetzelAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Meteorology


The increase of atmospheric CO2 concentrations due to anthropogenic activities is substantially damped by the ocean, whose CO2 uptake is determined by the state of the ocean, which in turn is influenced by climate change. We investigate the mechanisms of the ocean’s carbon uptake within the feedback loop of atmospheric CO2 concentration, climate change and atmosphere/ocean CO2 flux. We evaluate two transient simulations from 1860 until 2100, performed with a version of the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM) with the carbon cycle included. In both experiments observed anthropogenic CO2 emissions were prescribed until 2000, followed by the emissions according to the IPCC Scenario A2. In one simulation the radiative forcing of changing atmospheric CO2 is taken into account (coupled), in the other it is suppressed (uncoupled). In both simulations, the oceanic carbon uptake increases from 1 GT C/year in 1960 to 4.5 GT C/year in 2070. Afterwards, this trend weakens in the coupled simulation, leading to a reduced uptake rate of 10% in 2100 compared to the uncoupled simulation. This includes a partial offset due to higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the coupled simulation owing to reduced carbon uptake by the terrestrial biosphere. The difference of the oceanic carbon uptake between both simulations is primarily due to partial pressure difference and secondary to solubility changes. These contributions are widely offset by changes of gas transfer velocity due to sea ice melting and wind changes. The major differences appear in the Southern Ocean (−45%) and in the North Atlantic (−30%), related to reduced vertical mixing and North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, respectively. In the polar areas, sea ice melting induces additional CO2 uptake (+20%).


Ocean carbon cycle Climate change Ocean circulation Climate scenarios Air–sea CO2 flux