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Abstract

Carbon is among the most abundant substances in the universe; although severely depleted on Earth, it is the primary structural element in biochemistry. Complex interactions between carbon and climate have stabilized the Earth system over geologic time. Since the modern instrumental CO record began in the 1950s, about half of fossil fuel emissions have been sequestered in the oceans and land ecosystems. Ocean uptake of fossil CO is governed by chemistry and circulation. Net land uptake is surprising because it implies a persistent worldwide excess of growth over decay. Land carbon sinks include () CO fertilization, () nitrogen fertilization, () forest regrowth following agricultural abandonment, and () boreal warming. Carbon sinks in both land and oceans are threatened by warming and are likely to weaken or even reverse as emissions fall with the potential for amplification of climate change due to the release of previously stored carbon. Fossil CO will persist for centuries and perhaps many millennia after emissions cease.

  • ▪  About half the carbon from fossil fuel combustion is removed from the atmosphere by sink processes in the land and oceans, slowing the increase of CO and global warming. These sinks may weaken or even reverse as climate warms and emissions fall.
  • ▪  The net land sink for CO requires that plants have been growing faster than they decay for many decades, causing carbon to build up in the biosphere over and above the carbon lost to deforestation, fire, and other disturbances.
  • ▪  CO uptake by the oceans is slow because only the surface water is in chemical contact with the air. Cold water at depth is physically isolated by its density. Deep water mixes with the surface in about 1,000 years. The deep water does not know we are here yet!
  • ▪  After fossil fuel emissions cease, much of the extra CO will remain in the atmosphere for many centuries or even millennia. The lifetime of excess CO depends on total historical emissions; 10% to 40% could last until the year 40,000 AD.

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2022-05-31
2024-04-15
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