Report Earth's Oceans May Lose a Key Part of Their Ability to Capture Carbon

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The amount of carbon dioxide released into the air reached an all-time high in 2018, weighing in at 37.1 billion tonnes of the planet-warming gas. Fortunately, through the carbon-capturing abilities of the world’s oceans, about a quarter of it was drawn underwater, where its greenhouse gas effects are put on hold. Increasingly, we’re relying on the oceans as a crutch, but as new research from Columbia University’s Earth Institute reveals, they soon may not be able to store carbon like they used to.

As a new study published Monday in PNAS shows, the oceans, which are warming because of climate change, may start releasing more carbon dioxide back out into the air as a result of bacteria and rising ocean temperatures.

“The ocean carbon cycle is affected in almost innumerable ways by climate change!” first author Frank Pavia, an oceanography graduate student at Columbia, tells Inverse, noting that the oceans have already absorbed up to 25 to 30 percent of industrial carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production. His study focuses specifically on the increasing ability of marine bacteria to breathe the ocean’s carbon back out into the atmosphere.

 
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