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Global Warming Could Hinder Ocean

May 21, 1998

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Global warming could hinder the ocean’s ability to absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could make global warming harder to control, scientists said.

Heating up the atmosphere could reduce the natural ability of the ocean to suck up some of the gas like a sponge and carry it to the depths, Jorge Sarmiento and colleagues at Princeton University reported in a study appearing in today’s issue of the journal Nature.

On the other hand, the study suggested global warming could change marine life in a way that might increase the absorption.

In another study appearing in the same journal, scientists suggested that trees and vegetation might be able to absorb more of the excess gas than researchers previously thought.

But that study from Mingkui Cao of the University of Virginia and F. Ian Woodward of the University of Sheffield in England was based on models that excluded forest fires, clear-cutting or other factors that could alter the picture.

The two studies are important because scientists need to understand how the land and the oceans respond to global warming so they can better advise policymakers around the globe who are working to control the problem.

Carbon dioxide is the principal greenhouse gas believed to be driving global warming.

``For each unit of carbon dioxide we burn _ either from fossil fuels or deforestation _ some of the carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere, but not all of it. Some of it winds up in the ocean and some of it ends up in forests where plants take it in,″ said David S. Schimel, a carbon cycle expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in studies released in 1994 and 1995, assumed oceans and land had a steady capacity to absorb excess carbon dioxide, because ``we didn’t have any kind of consensus of what the climate changes might be,″ said Schimel, who worked on those studies.

The new Nature studies ``are closer to getting it right,″ he said, but he cautioned that the models they used are still incomplete.

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