Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Twilight Zone and Climate Change

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Twilight Zone and Climate Change

Article excerpt

A major study has shed new light on the dim layer of the ocean called the "twilight zone," where mysterious processes affect the ocean's ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide accumulating in our atmosphere.

The results of international research expeditions to the Pacific Ocean show that carbon dioxide-which is taken up by photosynthesizing marine plants in the sunlit ocean surface layer--does not necessarily sink to the depths to be stored and prevented from reentering the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. Instead, carbon transported to the depths in sinking particles is often consumed by animals and bacteria and recycled in the twilight zone (100 to 1,000 m below the surface), never reaching the deep ocean.

Using new technology, researchers found that only 20% of the total carbon in the ocean surface made it through the twilight zone off Hawaii, while 50% did in the northwest Pacific near Japan. The findings appear in the journal Science.

"The twilight zone is a critical link between the surface and the deep ocean," says Ken Buesseler, a biogeochemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and lead author of the study. "We're interested in what happens in the twilight zone, what sinks into it, and what actually sinks out of it. Unless the carbon that gets into the ocean goes all the way down into the deep ocean and is stored there, the carbon can still make its way back into the atmosphere. …

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