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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Apr 28;106(17):7067-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0812743106. Epub 2009 Apr 9.

Changes in biogenic carbon flow in response to sea surface warming.

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  • 1Departments of Biological Oceanography, IFM-GEOMAR Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany.


The pelagic ocean harbors one of the largest ecosystems on Earth. It is responsible for approximately half of global primary production, sustains worldwide fisheries, and plays an important role in the global carbon cycle. Ocean warming caused by anthropogenic climate change is already starting to impact the marine biota, with possible consequences for ocean productivity and ecosystem services. Because temperature sensitivities of marine autotrophic and heterotrophic processes differ greatly, ocean warming is expected to cause major shifts in the flow of carbon and energy through the pelagic system. Attempts to integrate such biological responses into marine ecosystem and biogeochemical models suffer from a lack of empirical data. Here, we show, using an indoor-mesocosm approach, that rising temperature accelerates respiratory consumption of organic carbon relative to autotrophic production in a natural plankton community. Increasing temperature by 2-6 degrees C hence decreased the biological drawdown of dissolved inorganic carbon in the surface layer by up to 31%. Moreover, warming shifted the partitioning between particulate and dissolved organic carbon toward an enhanced accumulation of dissolved compounds. In line with these findings, the loss of organic carbon through sinking was significantly reduced at elevated temperatures. The observed changes in biogenic carbon flow have the potential to reduce the transfer of primary produced organic matter to higher trophic levels, weaken the ocean's biological carbon pump, and hence provide a positive feedback to rising atmospheric CO(2).

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