What Controls the Variability of Carbon Dioxide in the Surface Ocean? A Plea for Complete Information

  • Peter G. Brewer
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 17)


The annual exchanges of carbon dioxide gas between the atmosphere and the surface ocean, and the slow but inexorable oceanic uptake of fossil fuel CO2, are among the most important problems addressed by ocean chemists today.

There is wide agreement as to experimental procedures in this field, through the measurement of alkalinity, total CO2, pH and pCO2 of ocean waters, together with physical properties and 14C. Moreover the uncertainties surrounding ocean physical chemistry and the representation of the various thermodynamic constants necessary to define this system now appear to have been solved. There is however widespread disagreement as to the relative importance of physical and biological controls on the CO2 chemistry of the surface ocean. Indeed one may divide the scientific papers in this field into two virtually distinct piles: those regarding biological controls as dominant, and those invoking the dominance of physical processes.

What appears to be true is that a complete experiment separating these effects has yet to be done, recognizing that the feedback between ocean mixing and biological productivity prevents, of course, a truly separate set of processes. The great variability of the ocean in space and time suggests the need for a well-coordinated program if progress is to be made in furthering our knowledge of the CO2 system.


Surface Ocean British COlumbia SOuthern OScillation Index Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Atmospheric Equilibrium 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter G. Brewer
    • 1
  1. 1.Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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