The Secret Life of Carbon
Human activities are rapidly increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, as oceans actually contain much more carbon than does the atmosphere, they ultimately determine atmospheric carbon concentrations. While the planet’s oceans naturally absorb about a third of the carbon dioxide humans produce, this will change as the oceans grow warmer and more acidic.
Dr. Roberta Hamme, Canada Research Chair in Ocean Carbon Dynamics, studies the complexities of the ocean carbon cycle in order to predict future changes. Dr. Hamme’s research analyzes the biological transformation of carbon, the chemical balance of its different forms and the physics of how oceans move.
The effects of biological, chemical and physical processes on carbon compete against each other and are hard to separate. Dr. Hamme teases these effects apart by making highly precise measurements of dissolved gases like oxygen, and inert gases like argon, krypton and xenon.
Dr. Hamme uses these measurements to differentiate biology from physics and to understand how carbon responds to the same processes. Oxygen, for example, can be used to quantify biological productivity in the oceans, while inert gases offer insights into physical processes, as their patterns have no biological response and are caused by physics alone.
This research will uncover the secrets of how carbon moves through the oceans—and how this may change—leading to better future predictions of climate change.