Oceanographer David Siegel, director of the Earth Research Institute at UC Santa Barbara, along with his colleagues carried a study to understand the role of ocean in the global carbon cycle.
Siegel used remaining wastes in the oceans for the study. They incorporated the lifecycle of phytoplankton and zooplankton — small, often microscopic animals at the bottom of the food chain —into a novel mechanistic model for understanding the global ocean carbon export.
For the study, the researchers used satellite observations including determinations of net primary production (NPP) — the net production of organic matter from aqueous carbon dioxide (CO2) by phytoplankton — to drive their food-web-based model.
The researchers focused on the ocean’s biological pump, which exports organic carbon from the euphotic zone, i.e. the upper ocean, through sinking particulate matter, largely from zooplankton feces and aggregates of algae. Once these leave the euphotic zone, sinking into the ocean depths, the carbon can be sequestered for a season or for centuries.
Siegel explains, “What we’ve done here is create the first step toward monitoring the strength and efficiency of the biological pump using satellite observations. The approach is unique in that previous ways have been empirical without considering the dynamics of the ocean food web. The space/time patterns created by those empirical approaches are inconsistent with how oceanographers think the oceans should work.”
Researchers say, oceans are a central component in the global carbon cycle as they play key role in their storage, transport and transformations of carbon constituents.
The findings of the study are published online in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles.