The Ocean Frontier Institute's solution for more accurate measurement of the ocean’s ability to continue to absorb carbon

The ocean is the most important global storage depot on Earth: it stores hundreds of times the heat and 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere and takes up more carbon than all the rainforests combined.

A conversation: Our net-zero future depends on the ocean

Climate is at the top of the international policy agenda: 137 nations have committed to Net Zero targetsincluding China. A critical element of setting out a robust climate policy regime and credible targets is ensuring the accuracy of the climate trajectory. 

Wildfires, heatwaves, and flooding garner attention because they happen where citizens witness and experience changes. In contrast, we are quite simply not observing the biogeochemical changes in the ocean, even though they are likely to bring changes to Earth more catastrophic than those we have observed to date. As the chemistry of the ocean changes, so does the trajectory for human and other species survival.

The World’s Largest Carbon Sink

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution about 150 years ago, the ocean has absorbed more than one-third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released from burning of fossil fuels, with the remainder accumulating in the atmosphere. 

The transfer of CO2from the atmosphere to the ocean depends on the rate of CO2emissions. As carbon emissions are reduced, the ocean carbon sink will likely diminish. The strength of the ocean carbon sink is also mediated by a complex set of physical, chemical and biological processes which transfer carbon deep into the ocean. Climate change may affect these processes, thereby reducing the carbon sink.

A North Atlantic Carbon Observatory

The North Atlantic Ocean acts as the most intense ocean carbon sink, including two key regions: the sub-polar gyre off of Newfoundland and Labrador (the Labrador Sea), and the subtropical gyre southeast of Nova Scotia. The North Atlantic Ocean is also particularly vulnerable to climate change – it is downstream from the Arctic and Greenland ice caps, and extremely sensitive to the strength/location of the Gulf Stream.

The magnitude and vulnerability of the North Atlantic sink make it a “sentinel region,” where ocean observations will provide major value for large scale assessments. Although there are existing ocean observation initiatives in the region, we are missing an integrated and coordinated international observing platform.

The Ocean Frontier Institute's solution for more accurate measurement of the ocean’s ability to continue to absorb carbon is a North Atlantic Carbon Observatory. An observatory would provide data and measurements to enhance global understanding of the capacity of the North Atlantic Ocean to continue to absorb carbon.

A focus on a future, holistic Blue Economy, and strong ocean tech sector to provide autonomous platforms and sensors to measure ocean carbon leave Canada poised to lead a North Atlantic Carbon Observatory initiative that would include many nations.

The Ocean Frontier Institute has researchers with the expertise, the leadership capabilities and credibility, and the international stature, to be the catalyst and align international science and policy perspectives on ocean carbon. The Ocean Frontier Institute also has the capacity to develop and implement an internationally connected North Atlantic project, which would provide global researchers and policy makers with a clear dashboard on the health of the ocean carbon sink.

Read the North Atlantic Carbon Observatory Science Primer