The Lungs of the Ocean

  • Peter Townsend Harris


The polar seas are the lungs of the ocean. When sea ice forms, it makes cold and salty water that is enriched in oxygen. Polar seas are where the oceans “breathe in.” Oxygen dead zones are created where rivers polluted by fertilizer reach the ocean and are a growing concern globally. Carbon dioxide is also absorbed by the ocean along with oxygen in the polar seas. In seawater carbon dioxide makes weak carbonic acid causing ocean acidification, the “evil twin” of global warming. But the oceans have not always had lungs that work the way they do today. In the geologic past, the deep ocean waters were hot, salty, and sometimes deprived of oxygen. We will also learn about a time 6 million years ago when the Strait of Gibraltar was closed off and the Mediterranean Sea nearly dried up.


Dissolved oxygen Antarctic Bottom Water North Atlantic Deep Water Equatorial upwelling Anoxic Photic zone Oxygen minimum zone Acidification Messinian Salinity Crisis 


  1. Buffet, J. (1974). A pirate looks at forty. Dunhill Records.Google Scholar
  2. Doney, S. C., Fabry, V. J., Feely, R. A., & Kleypas, J. (2009). Ocean acidification: The other CO2 problem. Annual Review of Marine Science, 1, 169–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Friedrich, O., Erbacher, J., Moriya, K., Wilson, P. A., & Kuhnert, H. (2008). Warm saline intermediate waters in the cretaceous tropical Atlantic Ocean. Nature Geoscience, 1, 453–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Jackson, L. C., Peterson, K. A., Roberts, C. D., & Wood, R. A. (2016). Recent slowing of Atlantic overturning circulation as a recovery from earlier strengthening. Nature Geoscience, 9, 518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Kämpf, J., & Chapman, P. (2016). Upwelling Systems of the World (p. 433). Springer.Google Scholar
  6. Schmitz, W. J., & McCartney, M. S. (1993). On the North Atlantic circulation. Reviews of Geophysics, 31, 29–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Smith, W. H., & Sandwell, D. T. (1997). Global sea floor topography from satellite altimetry and ship depth soundings. Science Magazine, 277(5334), 1956–1962.Google Scholar
  8. Tchernia, P. (1980). Descriptive regional oceanography. Oxford: Pergamon Marine Series.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Townsend Harris
    • 1
  1. 1.GRID-ArendalArendalNorway

Personalised recommendations