Oceanic control of atmospheric composition

This programme is studying the exchange of CO2, and other key trace gas species, between the ocean and atmosphere, and the production of marine aerosols.

We aim to quantify these fluxes and how they vary with time and location.

Evaluating the exchange between ocean and atmosphere is essential for predicting the future composition of both the ocean and atmosphere, and their impact on global climate. Central to this is establishing the biogeochemical and physical processes that drive exchange between atmosphere and ocean, and how these are likely to respond to climate change through feedback mechanisms.

The Southern ocean is an important sink for CO2, and our research will provide new information to improve global climate models. This programme underpins both national and international interests by long-term regional monitoring and modelling, providing critical inputs to national climate change policy and strategy.

Science within the programme will:

  • determine the baseline concentrations and trends in CO2, pH, and key trace gases in the surface ocean and marine boundary layer in the NZ EEZ, South West Pacific and Southern Ocean.
  • establish/identify the key biogeochemical processes that govern climatically important gases in the ocean.
  • characterise the processes that determine the production of marine aerosols and the exchange of gas and particles between the ocean and atmosphere. Scale up the results of field observation and experimentation through the development of parameterisations, models, and remote sensing proxies, so that they can be used in global climate models.
  • advise on the potential impacts, risks and benefits of marine geo-engineering.
  • establish the CO2 uptake and the rate of ocean acidification in New Zealand coastal and open ocean waters.
  • contribute to international databases, IPCC assessments, and science coordination through the IGBP SOLAS (Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study) programme.

Key science collaborations

  • University of Otago Department of Chemistry for ocean chemistry measurements
  • University of California Los Angeles for ocean carbon, oxygen and nutrient measurements
  • University of California at Irvine
  • Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK for ocean microbiology
  • University of Galway for air water interface processes
  • International SOLAS and EU COST Action 735 (Tools for Assessing Global Air–Sea Fluxes of Climate and Air Pollution Relevant Gases) communities

Our research will:

  • be aligned with science strategies for the following international programmes: International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP), Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS), International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC), EU COST Action 735, and World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG)
  • help understand the likely success and impacts of marine geo-engineering at a local and international level (IMO London Convention)
  • provide data to relevant international databases (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre - CDIAC, Marine methane and nitrous oxide - MEMENTO, Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research, working group 2, Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office -BCO-DMO)

Related research projects

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Many gases are transmitted across the ocean surface.