The Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) and other major international programs utilizing new ocean observing technologies are poised to revolutionize the way in which we explore the oceans and examine their role in the larger Earth system. Sustained, comprehensive, and in many cases, real-time observations emanating from these programs will provide unprecedented new insights into ocean processes over a range of spatial and temporal scales. A major overarching emphasis of the OOI is to assess the ocean’s role in climate, and this question is being addressed within the coastal, regional and global components of OOI. The infrastructure that is currently planned for these sites will allow detailed characterization of underlying processes.
The Global OOI will also provide important insights into the exchange of carbon between the ocean and the atmosphere – a central issue in understanding controls on the Earth’s climate system. However, there is a major void in this observation program with respect to two crucial aspects of the ocean’s role in the global carbon cycle – the fixation of CO2 by primary productivity in the surface ocean, and the removal of carbon to deep waters via the so-called “biological pump”. Our understanding of these processes is sufficiently limited that we are presently unable to predict the future health of marine ecosystems in the face of a changing ocean environment, or how the biological pump will respond to, or participates in the changing boundary conditions of the Earth’s climate.
The OOI infrastructure provides an extraordinary opportunity to implement a parallel, sustained biological and biogeochemical observation program to characterize two of the most poorly constrained and complex components of the Earth system - the primary productivity and the oceanic biological pump. The objective of this “White Paper” is to identify key elements to this Global Biogeochemical Flux (GBF) program, outline core observation and measurement strategies, highlight technological advances that will allow these objectives to be realized, and to stimulate interest and discussion amongst the ocean research community.