Skip to main content

Managing Ocean Carbon Data

Photo of Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuary by NOAA
Courtesy of NOAA, Joe Hoyt

One of the first scientific concepts that children are taught is that humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, and plants take the carbon dioxide and make oxygen. But carbon dioxide’s role on Earth is much more complicated than this simple cycle. Human activities, such as fossil fuel burning, deforestation, and even cement production release large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Since the industrial revolution, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased by over 40%. Studies show that heat-trapping (greenhouse) gases like CO2 have been causing Earth’s climate to change.

The ocean absorbs about 26% of the CO2 that is released into the atmosphere, helping reduce its impact on climate change. However, when CO2 is absorbed by seawater, a series of chemical reactions occur causing the seawater to become more acidic and carbonate ions to decrease, making it harder for some sea creatures like corals, oysters, and clams to build and maintain their shell and skeletal structures. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as ocean acidification. With more than a billion people relying on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein, rising atmospheric CO2 and ocean acidification can have an impact on food security.

Carbon Cycling and Science

Investigating carbon cycling in the ocean is critical to understanding both global climate change and ocean acidification. Sound scientific data can inform scientists, managers, and policy makers as they confront this issue. NCEI created the Ocean Carbon Data System (OCADS) to put all ocean carbon data into one repository. The OCADS collection includes ocean carbon measurements from a variety of platforms, including research ships, commercial ships, autonomous surface vehicles and mooring buoys.  

The OCADS repository includes the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project, or GLODAP.  Considered to be one of the most important databases in oceanography, GLODAP is the data- synthesis product based on the discrete, profile data collected from oceanographic research cruises and provides the highest quality of oceanographic data imaginable. With comprehensive data collected from 946 scientific cruises, covering the global ocean between 1972 and 2019, GLODAP provides important data for ocean acidification research and calculation of amounts of anthropogenic (human made) carbon dioxide in all areas of the ocean.

NCEI hosts and provides access to data collected from around the world, including the data previously archived at the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC-Oceans) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. OCADS archives data from several oceanographic projects: World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE); Climate Variability Project (CLIVAR); Global Ocean Ship-Based and Hydrographic Investigations Program (GO-SHIP); Ships of Opportunity Program (SOOP); Moorings and Time-series and autonomous surface vehicles projects; and more. In addition to providing access to the data through interactive maps and the Ocean Carbon and Acidification Data Portal, NCEI also archives the data to ensure the historical versions are preserved for future users.

Related News