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Managing Ocean Carbon Data

Courtesy of NOAA, Joe Hoyt

One of the first scientific concepts that kids learn 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, and buoys.

OCADS 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: data from the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE); data from the Climate Variability Project (CLIVAR); cruise data from the Global Ocean Ship-Based and Hydrographic Investigations Program (GO-SHIP) projects; surface/underway data from the Ships of Opportunity Program (SOOP); International Coastal Carbon Data; data from the Moorings and Time-series 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.

Learn more about OCADS from NCEI.