In January and February 1998, when an unprecedented fourth repetition of the zonal hydrographic transect at 24.5°N in the Atlantic was undertaken, carbon measurements were obtained for the second time in less than a decade. The field of total carbon along this section is compared to that provided by 1992 cruise which followed a similar path (albeit in a different season). Consistent with the increase in atmospheric carbon levels, an increase in anthropogenic carbon concentrations of Full-size image (〈1 K) was found in the surface layers. Using an inverse analysis to determine estimates of absolute velocity, the flux of inorganic carbon across 24.5° is estimated to be −0.74±0.91 and Full-size image (〈1 K) southward in 1998 and 1992, respectively. Estimates of total inorganic carbon flux depend strongly upon the estimated mass transport, particularly of the Deep Western Boundary Current. The 1998 estimate reduces the large regional divergence in the meridional carbon transport suggested by previous studies and brings into question the idea that the tropical Atlantic constantly outgasses carbon, while the subpolar Atlantic sequesters it. Uncertainty in the carbon transports themselves, dominated by the uncertainty in the total mass transport estimates, are a hindrance to determining the “true” picture.
The flux of anthropogenic carbon (C★ANTH) across the two transects is estimated as northward at 0.20±0.08 and Full-size image (〈1 K) for the 1998 and 1992 sections, respectively. The net transport of C★ANTH across 24.5°N is strongly affected by the difference in concentrations between the northward flowing shallow Florida Current and the mass balancing, interior return flow. The net northward transport of C★ANTH is opposite the net flow of total carbon and suggests, as has been found by others, that the pre-industrial southward transport of carbon within the Atlantic was stronger than it is today. Combining these flux results with estimates of atmospheric and riverine inorganic carbon input, it is determined that today's oceanic carbon system differs from the pre-industrial system in that today there is an uptake of anthropogenic carbon to the south that is advected northward and stored within the North Atlantic basin.