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Natural Environment Research Council; University of East Anglia; Plymouth Marine Laboratory; National Oceanography Centre, Southampton; University of Manchester; University of Leicester

Recent data has shown a dramatic decline in carbon dioxide absorption by the North Atlantic and Southern Ocean, a change that could greatly accelerate global warming. The UK Surface Ocean - Lower Atmosphere Study (UK SOLAS) supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is investigating processes at the sea surface to predict how they will affect our future climate.

‘Three approaches are being taken forward together,’ says Phil Williamson of the University of East Anglia. ‘Observations on the large-scale changes that are already underway; experiments on how biology, chemistry and physics affect gas-exchange rates; and modelling analyses that integrate information on the behaviour of both the ocean and the atmosphere.’

UK SOLAS is working with European and international partners to collect data on carbon dioxide uptake and release, using research vessels, instrumented cargo ships, and the world’s last weather-ship, located in the Norwegian Sea.

But carbon dioxide isn’t the only gas of interest. ‘Biological activity in the ocean releases volatile organic compounds, that may contain iodine, bromine or sulphur,’ explains Phil. ‘Although only occurring at trace levels, these gases play a critical role in atmospheric chemistry, reacting with ozone and stimulating cloud formation. We need to know much more about what comes out of the ocean, as well as what goes in.’