Nobel Conference 48 Profile of Christopher Sabine

Posted on August 23rd, 2012 by

As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased from around 280 parts per million preindustrially to near 400 parts per million in 2012, the scientific community has been diligently working to predict how much warmer the earth’s atmosphere will become. It is well known that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased due mainly to the burning of fossil fuels, but few realize that only about two thirds of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities since the beginning of the industrial revolution remains in the atmosphere. Where has the rest of the carbon gone?

Much of the carbon has accumulated in the ocean, thus mitigating atmospheric warming somewhat. But what are the effects on the ocean? Will the ocean continue to offset carbon emissions, or could it act as a source in the future? These are some of the big picture questions that Dr. Christopher Sabine, current director of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration is pursuing.

Sabine has dedicated much of his career to studying the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and the ocean, the cycling of carbon within the ocean, and the impact of “carbonating” the ocean. Like carbonating a beverage, the massive addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere has pumped carbon dioxide into the ocean, elevating the acidity and lowering the pH slightly. In the vast expanse and depths of the ocean, however, the story is not that simple. Some carbon contributes to lowering the pH at the surface of the ocean, but the effect varies across space and time. Some carbon is incorporated into biological organisms and may eventually settle to the depths, but it may also be recycled over uncertain time frames.

As a leader in this most important area of research, Dr. Sabine will bring compelling findings to the 2012 Nobel Conference audience.


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