© The Author(s), 2016. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Biogeosciences 13 (2016): 4023-4047, doi:10.5194/bg-13-4023-2016.
Accurate projections of marine particle export production (EP) are crucial for predicting the response of the marine carbon cycle to climate change, yet models show a wide range in both global EP and their responses to climate change. This is, in part, due to EP being the net result of a series of processes, starting with net primary production (NPP) in the sunlit upper ocean, followed by the formation of particulate organic matter and the subsequent sinking and remineralisation of these particles, with each of these processes responding differently to changes in environmental conditions. Here, we compare future projections in EP over the 21st century, generated by four marine ecosystem models under the high emission scenario Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and determine the processes driving these changes. The models simulate small to modest decreases in global EP between −1 and −12 %. Models differ greatly with regard to the drivers causing these changes. Among them, the formation of particles is the most uncertain process with models not agreeing on either magnitude or the direction of change. The removal of the sinking particles by remineralisation is simulated to increase in the low and intermediate latitudes in three models, driven by either warming-induced increases in remineralisation or slower particle sinking, and show insignificant changes in the remaining model. Changes in ecosystem structure, particularly the relative role of diatoms matters as well, as diatoms produce larger and denser particles that sink faster and are partly protected from remineralisation. Also this controlling factor is afflicted with high uncertainties, particularly since the models differ already substantially with regard to both the initial (present-day) distribution of diatoms (between 11–94 % in the Southern Ocean) and the diatom contribution to particle formation (0.6–3.8 times higher than their contribution to biomass). As a consequence, changes in diatom concentration are a strong driver for EP changes in some models but of low significance in others. Observational and experimental constraints on ecosystem structure and how the fixed carbon is routed through the ecosystem to produce export production are urgently needed in order to improve current generation ecosystem models and their ability to project future changes.
The research leading to these results has
received funding from the European Community’s Seventh
Framework Programme (FP7 2007-2013) under grant agreement
no. 238366. Meike Vogt and Nicolas Gruber acknowledge funding
by ETH Zürich. Judith Hauck was funded by the Helmholtz Post-
Doc Programme (Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz
Association). Scott C. Doney and Ivan D. Lima acknowledge the
support of the National Science Foundation through the Center
for Microbial Oceanography Research and Education (C-MORE),
an NSF Science and Technology Center (EF-0424599).
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