The ocean stores huge amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be in the atmosphere. Marine organisms play a critical role, but emerging evidence indicates that climate models are not fully accounting for their impact.

This programme will deliver the new understanding of the role of marine life that is needed to make robust predictions of future ocean carbon storage.

Watch: BIO-Carbon Programme summary

To deliver this new understanding, BIO-Carbon will address three major challenges:

Watch: BIO-Carbon - Three challenges

Challenge 1

How does marine life affect the potential for seawater to absorb CO2, and how will this change?

The ability of the oceans to absorb CO2 is determined by alkalinity. Biological production and dissolution of calcium carbonate influence alkalinity but estimates of global ocean calcium carbonate production, vertical transport and dissolution vary considerably.

Challenge 2

How will the rate at which marine life converts dissolved CO2 into organic carbon change?

CO2 is removed from the ocean by conversion to organic matter through primary production by marine phytoplankton. Estimates of global primary production and how it will be altered by climate change are very uncertain due to insufficient knowledge about key processes and how these processes vary in different ocean environments.

Challenge 3

How will climate change-induced shifts in respiration by the marine ecosystem affect the future ocean storage of carbon?

Respiration of marine organisms converts organic carbon back to CO2. To determine the speed at which this CO2 is returned to the atmosphere, we need to understand how respiration varies with depth, location and season and understand how environmental changes affect respiration.