Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Ocean Temperature and CO2
Name: Fano
Status: educator
Grade: 9-12
Location: Italy
Date: April 2007

Question:
If the water of the ocean becomes warmer, the absorption of CO2 becomes more difficult, and emission easier. Where can I find some quantitative data (e.g. a mathematical formula or a reference) on this phenomenon? It seems to me very crucial in understanding whether atmospheric CO2 produces global warming, or vice versa increase of temperature gives rise to CO2.



Replies:
The solubility of CO2 (and other gases) is obviously an important issue, as you recognize. It has also been highly researched and there is a massive amount of literature at all levels of sophistication. This reflects the fact that the problem is very complicated -- temperature, salinity, depth, presence/absence of carbonate rock, tides and currents, the list is long... A "Google" search on the term "solubility CO2 sea water" quickly hit this half dozen sites and there are dozens more that I could have added to the list. Understanding the carbon cycle in sea water is very important, but also very intricate. These "hits" should give you a good "jumping off" point.

http://scrippsco2.ucsd.edu/research/sea_water_co2.html

http://ijolite.geology.uiuc.edu/02SprgClass/geo117/lectures/Lect18.html

http://www.seafriends.org.nz/oceano/seawater.htm

http://cdiac.ornl.gov/oceans/co2rprt.html

http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Re-St/Sea-Water-Gases-in.html

http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=kt167nb66r&chunk.id=d3_6
_ch06&toc.id=ch06&brand=eschol

Vince Calder


Fano,

It is not quite as straightforward as that. While it is true that the s olubility of CO2 in water decreases with increasing temperature, the solubility of gases into liquid also depends on the pressure of that gas. This means that while less CO2 gets dissolved in warmer oceans, it is also true that with more CO2 in the atmosphere, more of it will dissolve. We also have to remember that "solubility" means the maximum mount of solute dissolved in a solvent under particular conditions. Thus, it may be that more CO2 will dissolve in the oceans (as more CO2 enters the atmosphere) if the oceans are not as yet saturated. Moreover, remember that as CO2 dissolves in water, some of it reacts with the water to form carbonic acid - thus, there may be more CO2 dissolved in other forms.

I think the key here is measurement. We need to continue gathering data.

Greg (Roberto Gregorious)


Let me add this too:

Vince is exactly correct: this issue is extraordinarily complex. There is no simple equation or even set of equations to describe what is going on. In fact, there is much less scientific consensus on how much CO2 is dissolved in oceans than this is for air or ground. Let me restate this to be clear: we know a lot more about air and land CO2 than we do about the oceans. In short, mankind just cannot predict very well how the oceans will affect atmospheric CO2 or global climate -- at least not with the certainty or simplicity that would be easy to convey in this forum.

Wish I had better information for you.

Burr Zimmerman



Click here to return to the General Topics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory