The stormy waters south of the Cape suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and are key to understanding what will happen to our climate as the Earth heats up.
The storms are part of the reason the Southern Ocean is one of the most under-researched in the world, although it absorbs almost half of the world’s man-made carbon emissions.
Last week, more than 50 researchers returned from a scientific voyage of the waters encircling Antarctica, the first leg of a two-year experiment – the third Southern Ocean Seasonal Cycle Experiment – that aims to fill in many of the blank spaces about how this ocean mitigates the effects of climate change.
A report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released last year, says the world is already experiencing climate change. “African ecosystems are already being impacted by climate change, and the future impacts are expected to be substantial,” it said.
Mediating global climate
Pedro Monteiro, chief oceanographer of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and head of the CSIR’s Southern Ocean Carbon-Climate Observatory programme, says: “Globally, there is a renewed interest in understanding what is going on in the Southern Ocean from a climate perspective and how it mediates global climate.
“Although anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions – those created by humans – are well studied and account for about 10 gigatonnes per year, the natural carbon cycle between the ocean and the atmosphere is substantially larger at 100 gigatonnes per year and is less understood,” he says.
But, because of the stormy and cold weather in the Southern Ocean, researchers struggle to obtain scientific measurements during winter, something that this experiment plans to change.
For more, find the article — originally published in Mail & Guardian — here.