Building an initiative focused on carbon export from continental shelves (New Initiative)

Glen Gawarkiewicz, Physical Oceanography
Jim Churchill, Physical Oceanography
Tim Eglinton, Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry
Sonya Dyhrman, Biology
Dan Repeta, Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry


Project Funded 2008:

The quantity of organic carbon produced yearly through photosynthesis over the world’s continental shelves nearly matches estimated yearly quantity of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere through human activities. Shelf production of organic matter is thus a potentially important component of the global carbon budget. However, there is considerable uncertainty regarding the eventual fate of this production, particularly with the fraction that is exported from the shelves and eventually bound up within deep sea or estuarine sediments. Furthermore, the shelf environment is undergoing changes due to increased coastal nutrient discharge and warming temperatures associated with global climate change. These changes will undoubtedly impact the shelf production and its contribution to the global carbon budget. A comprehensive understanding of how carbon production within the changing environment of continental shelves influences the global carbon budget requires a well-crafted interdisciplinary initiative. Given the current interest in global carbon dynamics, within both the scientific community and federal agencies, a proposal for such an initiative is likely to be viewed with interest and have good prospects for funding. Our group, with expertise spanning many disciplines, proposes a yearlong effort working toward an initiative directed at better understanding carbon export from continental shelves. Specifically, we will identify those processes affecting shelf carbon export that require further study and offer recommendations for a comprehensive, multidisciplinary study of shelf carbon export. Our effort will include: (i) a review of current knowledge of processes affecting export of organic carbon from shelves, (ii) use of under-utilized data to further explore carbon export off the northeast U.S. continental shelf, (iii) a series of small workshops, and (iv) generation of a document with findings and recommendations, (v) meeting with personnel at federal agencies to explore funding possibilities for an initiative on carbon production and export from continental shelves.