Ocean Sciences Editors' Highlights

Robot Measures Air-Sea Carbon Dioxide Exchange in Southern Ocean

Unique air and ocean surface observations of the Southern Ocean from a 22,000 km, 196-day circumnavigation around Antarctica by an Uncrewed Surface Vehicle.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters


The Southern Ocean is a notoriously difficult environment in which to make oceanic measurements. The wind is fierce, the waves are high, and the winter is long. This makes it especially challenging for obtaining measurements at the air-sea interface such as needed for estimating the carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean. Yet, the Southern Ocean is known to play an enormous role in the uptake of both carbon and heat from the atmosphere and so is of importance to the global climate system.

Sutton et al. [2021] report on new measurements needed to estimate the air-sea CO2 flux obtained from an Uncrewed Surface Vehicle (USV) that circumnavigated the Antarctic continent. The hourly measurements showed regional variations in the CO2 flux related to the different oceanic frontal zones that characterize the Southern Ocean (see figure above).

The fine-scale temporal and spatial variability resolved by the USV data were used to assess potential biases in float and ship-based CO2 flux estimates in the Southern Ocean that had somewhat conflicting views of Southern Ocean CO2 flux. The authors suggest that the discrepancy was likely due to regional and interannual variations in the measurement periods.

They call for an integrated multi-platform approach to obtaining better coverage of the CO2 flux consisting of air-sea measurements from USVs, water column measurements from floats along with ship-based measurements to fill observational gaps so as to better understand measurement uncertainties and variability in the Southern Ocean.

Citation: Sutton, A. J., Williams, N. L., & Tilbrook, B. [2021]. Constraining Southern Ocean CO2 flux uncertainty using uncrewed surface vehicle observations. Geophysical Research Letters, 48, e2020GL091748. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020GL091748

―Janet Sprintall, Editor, Geophysical Research Letters

Text © 2021. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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