At a time when many climate models figure in significant amounts of ocean absorption, the news will cast a further shadow over our ability to tackle global warming.
Automatic instruments placed aboard commercial ships made some 90,000 measurements since the mid-1990s, which were then analysed by researchers. Their results show that the ocean is now absorbing half the amount of carbon dioxide than it did in 1995.
‘Such large changes are a tremendous surprise,’ said Dr Ute Schuster, one of the lead authors of the research.
‘We expected that the uptake would change only slowly because of the ocean’s great mass.’
But the BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin was quick to point out that the researchers are not yet sure whether they are looking at natural variations in ocean absorption, or an effect of climate change.
The ocean currently absorbs at least half of the CO2 produced through burning fossil fuels.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist October 2007