Spatial and seasonal variability of the air-sea equilibration timescale of carbon dioxide
The exchange of carbon dioxide between the ocean and the atmosphere tends to bring waters within the mixed layer toward equilibrium by reducing the partial pressure gradient across the air-water interface. However, the equilibration process is not instantaneous; in general, there is a lag between forcing and response. The timescale of air-sea equilibration depends on several factors involving the depth of the mixed layer, wind speed, and carbonate chemistry. We use a suite of observational data sets to generate climatological and seasonal composite maps of the air-sea equilibration timescale. The relaxation timescale exhibits considerable spatial and seasonal variations that are largely set by changes in mixed layer depth and wind speed. The net effect is dominated by the mixed layer depth; the gas exchange velocity and carbonate chemistry parameters only provide partial compensation. Broadly speaking, the adjustment timescale tends to increase with latitude. We compare the observationally derived air-sea gas exchange timescale with a model-derived surface residence time and a data-derived horizontal transport timescale, which allows us to define two nondimensional metrics of equilibration efficiency. These parameters highlight the tropics, subtropics, and northern North Atlantic as regions of inefficient air-sea equilibration where carbon anomalies are relatively likely to persist. The efficiency parameters presented here can serve as simple tools for understanding the large-scale persistence of air-sea disequilibrium of CO2 in both observations and models.
Authors: Jones, Daniel C., Ito, Takamitsu, Takano, Yohei, Hsu, Wei-Ching