The Southern Ocean is the primary pathway for carbon dioxide (CO2) and heat to enter the deep ocean. It is one of the few locations on Earth where very cold waters from deep ocean currents are exposed to the atmosphere before the "conveyor belt" that provides the ocean's circulation brings them back down to the depths. These currents are vital in distributing nutrients and heat throughout the entire ocean, but climate models are challenged to accurately predict the changes in uptake of CO2 and heat in the region. This winter's "O2/N2 Ratio and CO2 Airborne Southern Ocean Study" (ORCAS) will research the role of the Southern Ocean in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide and its impact on the global carbon cycle and ocean circulation.

Education Spotlights

Carbon Cycle, Source: NASA

Oceans & Carbon

Because the concentration of CO2 is higher in the air than in the ocean, it diffuses into seawater. There, tiny photosynthetic microbes called phytoplankton, absorb it and use it to make food, generating half of the world's oxygen in the process. Log in (it's free!) and learn more with COMET MetEd.

Grades 9-12, Undergraduate, Graduate/professional