04 Nov 2022
04 Nov 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

The representation of alkalinity and the carbonate pump from CMIP5 to CMIP6 ESMs and implications for the ocean carbon cycle

Alban Planchat1, Lester Kwiatkwoski2, Laurent Bopp1, Olivier Torres1, James R. Christian3, Momme Butenschön4, Tomas Lovato4, Roland Séférian5, Matthew A. Chamberlain6, Olivier Aumont2, Michio Watanabe7, Akitomo Yamamoto7, Andrew Yool8, Tatiana Ilyina9, Hiroyuki Tsujino10, Kristen M. Krumhardt11, Jörg Schwinger12, Jerry Tjiputra12, John P. Dunne13, and Charles Stock13 Alban Planchat et al.
  • 1LMD-IPSL, CNRS, Ecole Normale Supérieure/PSL Res. Univ, Ecole Polytechnique, Sorbonne Université, Paris, 75005, France
  • 2LOCEAN Laboratory, Sorbonne Université-CNRS-IRD-MNHN, Paris, 75005, France
  • 3Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, Victoria, BC, Canada
  • 4Ocean Modeling and Data Assimilation Division, Fondazione Centro Euro-Mediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici (CMCC), Bologna, Italy
  • 5CNRM (Université de Toulouse, Météo-France, CNRS), Toulouse, France
  • 6CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart, TAS, Australia
  • 7Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, the University of Tokyo, Chiba, Japan
  • 8National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, SO13 3ZH, UK
  • 9Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstraße 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany
  • 10JMA Meteorological Research Institute, Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan
  • 11Climate and Global Dynamics, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A.
  • 12NORCE Climate & Environment, Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway
  • 13NOAA/OAR Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton NJ, USA

Abstract. Ocean alkalinity is critical to the uptake of atmospheric carbon in surface waters and provides buffering capacity towards associated acidification. However, unlike dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), alkalinity is not directly impacted by anthropogenic carbon emissions. Within the context of projections of future ocean carbon uptake and potential ecosystem impacts, especially through Coupled Model Intercomparison Projects (CMIPs), the representation of alkalinity and the main driver of its distribution in the ocean interior, the calcium carbonate cycle, have often been overlooked. Here we track the changes from CMIP5 to CMIP6 with respect to the Earth system model (ESM) representation of alkalinity and the carbonate pump which depletes the surface ocean in alkalinity through biological production of calcium carbonate, and releases it at depth through export and dissolution. We report a significant improvement in the representation of alkalinity in CMIP6 ESMs relative to those in CMIP5. This improvement can be explained in part by an increase in calcium carbonate (CaCO3) production for some ESMs, which redistributes alkalinity at the surface and strengthens its vertical gradient in the water column. We were able to constrain a PIC export estimate of 51–70 Tmol yr-1 at 100 m for the ESMs to match the observed vertical gradient of alkalinity. Biases in the vertical profile of DIC have also significantly decreased, especially with the enhancement of the carbonate pump, but the representation of the saturation horizons has slightly worsened in contrast. Reviewing the representation of the CaCO3 cycle across CMIP5/6, we find a substantial range of parameterizations. While all biogeochemical models currently represent pelagic calcification, they do so implicitly, and they do not represent benthic calcification. In addition, most models simulate marine calcite but not aragonite. In CMIP6 certain model groups have increased the complexity of simulated CaCO3 production, sinking, dissolution and sedimentation. However, this is insufficient to explain the overall improvement in the alkalinity representation, which is therefore likely a result of improved marine biogeochemistry model tuning or ad hoc parameterizations. We find differences in the way ocean alkalinity is initialized that lead to offsets of up to 1 % in the global alkalinity inventory of certain models. These initialization biases should be addressed in future CMIPs by adopting accurate unit conversions. Although modelers aim to balance the global alkalinity budget in ESMs in order to limit drift in ocean carbon uptake under preindustrial conditions, varying assumptions in the closure of the budget have the potential to influence projections of future carbon uptake. For instance, in many models, carbonate production, dissolution and burial are independent of the seawater saturation state, and when considered, the range of sensitivities is substantial. As such, the future impact of ocean acidification on the carbonate pump, and in turn ocean carbon uptake, is potentially underestimated in current ESMs and insufficiently constrained.

Alban Planchat et al.

Status: open (until 16 Dec 2022)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1041', Anonymous Referee #1, 06 Dec 2022 reply

Alban Planchat et al.


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Short summary
Ocean alkalinity is critical to the uptake of atmospheric carbon and acidification in surface waters. We review the representation of alkalinity and the associated calcium carbonate cycle in Earth system models. While many parameterizations remain present in the latest generation of models, there is a general improvement in the simulated alkalinity distribution. This improvement is related to an increase in the export of biotic calcium carbonate, which closer resembles observations.