18 May 2012

Forests and oceans still soak up carbon

© Petr Malyshev
© Petr Malyshev
Earth's ecosystems keep soaking up more carbon as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, new measurements find, writes Science News.

The new research contradicts several recent studies suggesting that "carbon sinks" have reached or passed their capacity.

By looking at global measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the new work calculates instead that total sinks have increased roughly in line with rising emissions. The carbon dioxide levels have been measured for decades in 42 marine sites.

Previous work has relied on carbon inventories that gather data from multiple sources to try to estimate how much is being put into the atmosphere and how much is being taken out every year.

The findings were presented at a conference at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

Forests can suck down carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, whereas oceans take it up proportionally as levels rise in the air.

Scientists warn that society shouldn't get complacent just because carbon is still being absorbed. Rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases are triggering other planet-wide changes, such as alterations to the oceans' chemistry.

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