Background Information

The World Ocean plays a dynamic role in the Earth's climate: it captures heat from the sun, transports it, and releases it thousands of miles away. These oceanic-solar-atmospheric interactions affect winds, rainfall patterns, and temperatures on a global scale. The oceans also play a major role in global carbon-cycle processes. Carbon is unevenly distributed in the oceans because of complex circulation patterns and biogeochemical cycles that include the biological processes of photosynthesis in upper layers and respiration in deep oceans. The oceans are estimated to hold 38,000 gigatons of carbon, 50 times more than the amount in the atmosphere and 20 times more than the amount held by plants, animals, and the soil. If only 2% of the carbon stored in the oceans was released, the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) would double. Every year, the amount of CO2 exchanged across the sea surface is 15 times greater than the amount produced by burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and other human activities (Williams 1990).

To better understand the ocean's role in climate and climatic changes, several large experiments have already been conducted, and others are currently under way. The largest oceanographic experiment ever attempted is the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE). A major component of the World Climate Research Program, WOCE brings together the expertise of scientists and technicians from more than 30 nations. In the United States, WOCE is supported by the federal government under the Global Change Research Program. The multiagency U.S. effort is led by the National Science Foundation and supported by major contributions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Office of Naval Research, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Although total carbon dioxide concentration (TCO2) is not an official WOCE measurement, a coordinated effort, supported in the United States by the DOE, is being made on WOCE cruises (through 1998) to measure the global, spatial, and temporal distributions of TCO2 and other carbon-related parameters. The goals of the CO2 survey include estimation of the meridional transport of inorganic carbon in the Pacific Ocean in a manner analogous to the oceanic heat transport estimates (Bryden and Hall 1980; Brewer et al. 1989; Roemmich and Wunsch 1985), evaluation of the exchange of CO2 between the atmosphere and the ocean, and preparation of a database suitable for carbon-cycle modeling and the subsequent assessment of the anthropogenic CO2 increase in the oceans. The final data set is expected to cover ~23,000 stations.

This report presents CO2-related measurements obtained during the 152-day expedition of the Research Vessel (R/V) Knorr along the WOCE Sections P16A/P17A, P17E/P19S, and P19C which are located in the South Pacific Ocean (Fig. 1).

In addition to TCO2, parameters measured in discrete water samples include partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) measured at 4 and 20°C, salinity, oxygen, nutrients, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). In addition, pressure, temperature, salinity, and oxygen were measured continuously with water depth on each station using an in situ sensor.

The CO2 investigation during the three R/V Knorr expeditions was supported by a grant (No. DE-FGO2-90-ER60983) from the U.S. DOE.


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