EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Future trends and uncertainties in the Biological Carbon Pump predicted by CMIP6 models

Jamie Wilson1, Oliver Andrews2, and Anna Katavouta3
Jamie Wilson et al.
  • 1School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK (
  • 2School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  • 3National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

A fraction of the carbon fixed in the surface ocean by phytoplankton is isolated away from the atmosphere in the ocean interior with the respiration of sinking detritus (Particles of Organic Carbon: POC) - a process known as the "Biological Carbon Pump'' (BCP). The BCP sequesters ~1700 Pg of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) in the ocean beyond the concentration expected solely with physio-chemical drivers, effectively lowering the base-line atmospheric CO2 concentration by ~150-250 ppm. The components that make up the BCP (export production, sinking and remineralisation of POC, ocean ventilation timescales) are all expected to change in response to a changing climate but there is currently low confidence in how these changes will influence the magnitude and direction of the ocean carbon feedback.

Here we quantify the predicted historical and future changes in the Biological Carbon Pump in the latest CMIP6 projections as fully as possible. We find that all models consistently predict that the BCP will accumulate carbon in the ocean interior by 2100, i.e., acting as a sink for atmospheric CO2, albeit contributing only a small fraction (~10%) of the net carbon sink. The accumulation of carbon along with a concurrent decrease in globally integrated export production at 100m is associated with warming-driven stratification. In contrast there is significant disagreement in both the magnitude and direction of global mean trends and spatial patterns of transfer efficiency of POC at 1000m. This uncertainty arises because of the range of processes resolved across the biogeochemical models that influence the sinking and remineralisation rate of POC such as: temperature and oxygen-dependent remineralisation, ballasting, and dependence of sinking velocities on cell size. We demonstrate that these changes in transfer efficiency could likely determine the larger long-term impact of the BCP on atmospheric CO2 beyond 2100. Our results have wider implications for the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients and oxygen as well as implications for future impacts on twilight zone ecology.

How to cite: Wilson, J., Andrews, O., and Katavouta, A.: Future trends and uncertainties in the Biological Carbon Pump predicted by CMIP6 models, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-13378,, 2022.