Understanding why the volume of suboxic waters does not increase over centuries of global warming in an Earth System Model

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A. Gnanadesikan ; J. P. Dunne ; J. John (2012)
  • Publisher: Copernicus Publications
  • Journal: Biogeosciences (issn: 1726-4170, eissn: 1726-4189)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.5194/bg-9-1159-2012
  • Subject: Ecology | QH540-549.5 | Life | QH501-531 | Geology | QE1-996.5

Global warming is expected to reduce oxygen solubility and vertical exchange in the ocean, changes which would be expected to result in an increase in the volume of hypoxic waters. A simulation made with a full Earth System model with dynamical atmosphere, ocean, sea ice and biogeochemical cycling (the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory's Earth System Model 2.1) shows that this holds true if the condition for hypoxia is set relatively high. However, the volume of the most hypoxic (i.e., suboxic) waters does not increase under global warming, as these waters actually become more oxygenated. We show that the rise in dissolved oxygen in the tropical Pacific is associated with a drop in ventilation time. A term-by-term analysis within the least oxygenated waters shows an increased supply of dissolved oxygen due to lateral diffusion compensating an increase in remineralization within these highly hypoxic waters. This lateral diffusive flux is the result of an increase of ventilation along the Chilean coast, as a drying of the region under global warming opens up a region of wintertime convection in our model. The results highlight the potential sensitivity of suboxic waters to changes in subtropical ventilation as well as the importance of constraining lateral eddy transport of dissolved oxygen in such waters.
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