Working Group I: The Scientific Basis

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3.6.3 Evaluation of Ocean Models

Natural and anthropogenic tracers have been extensively measured, most recently as part of the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) and World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE). Because of these measurement campaigns, such tracers provide important opportunities to evaluate representations of ocean physics and biogeochemistry in models. Natural carbon cycling in the ocean

Most global ocean models of the carbon cycle are successful in reproducing the main vertical and horizontal features of ocean carbon content (Maier-Reimer, 1993; Aumont, 1998; Murnane et al., 1999). The observed features reasonably reproduced by all ocean models are the mean vertical gradient in DIC, with enriched deep ocean concentrations (Goyet and Davies, 1997), and the spatial patterns of surface pCO2 with outgassing in the tropics and uptake at higher latitudes (Takahashi et al., 1999). Furthermore, models which incorporate marine biology (including DOC and plankton dynamics) roughly reproduce the seasonal cycle of surface ocean pCO2, atmospheric O2 after it has been corrected for seasonal land variability, and surface chlorophyll (Six and Maier-Reimer, 1996; Stephens et al., 1998; Aumont et al., 2001a). Ocean carbon models can also roughly reproduce the phase and amplitude of interannual variability of ocean pCO2 in the equatorial Pacific (Winguth et al., 1994; Le Quéré et al., 2000) in agreement with available observations (Feely et al., 1997; 1999b; Boutin et al., 1999).

Although many first-order features can be reproduced by global models, there are still important aspects of the ocean carbon cycle that are not well simulated, because either marine biology or ocean physics are imperfectly reproduced. Ocean carbon models have difficulties in reproducing the spatial structure of the deep ocean 14C (Orr et al., 2001), which suggests problems in simulating the physical exchange of carbon between surface and the deep ocean. Models display their largest disagreements where fewest observations exist, in particular in the important region of the Southern Ocean where the mixing of tracers is subject to large uncertainties (Caldeira and Duffy, 2000; Sarmiento et al., 2000; Orr et al., 2001). In spite of these differences, all ocean carbon models estimate zero interhemispheric transport of carbon (Sarmiento et al., 2000) whereas a transport as large as 1 PgC/yr has been inferred from atmospheric CO2 measurements (Keeling et al., 1989). Consideration of the global transport of carbon by rivers reduces the discrepancy but does not remove it (Sarmiento and Sundquist, 1992; Aumont et al., 2001b). Atmospheric CO2 and O2 measurements suggest that interhemispheric transport may be incorrectly simulated by ocean models (Stephens et al., 1998), and could hint at difficulties in modelling heat transport (Murnane et al., 1999). Recent data from the Southern Ocean, however, seem closer to model results (Stephens, 1999) and the question about interhemispheric transport thus remains open. These problems could partly be resolved by a better representation of the physical transport of carbon in the ocean, especially isopycnal diffusion, sub-grid eddy mixing, and sea-ice formation (Stephens et al., 1999).

Three common problems related to marine biology in global ocean models are discussed here. First, most models poorly represent the formation and dissolution of CaCO3, which controls alkalinity. This process is often parameterized as a function of direct or indirect observations (salinity, temperature, nutrients). Although correct for the present day ocean, this parametrisation may not hold for past or future conditions with different ocean circulation and surface water fluxes. The alkalinity cycle is difficult to represent because the rate of CaCO3 formation derived from observations is consistently larger than the one required by models for reproducing observed deep ocean alkalinity (Maier-Reimer, 1993; Yamanaka and Tajika, 1996). Second, marine productivity tends to be underestimated by models in sub-tropical regions and overestimated in the equatorial oceans and at high latitudes in the North Pacific and Southern Oceans. The overestimation may be caused by limitation in plankton growth by iron (Coale et al., 1996; Boyd et al., 2000; Archer and Johnson, 2000), while under-estimation in the sub-tropics partly stems from neglecting mesoscale variability (McGillicuddy and Robinson, 1997; Oschlies and Garçon, 1998). The remaining discrepancies might be attributed in part to more complex processes involving nitrogen fixation (Karl et al., 1997). Finally, the tight coupling between carbon and either nitrogen or phosphate, which is generally implicit in ocean carbon models, precludes the simulation of past or future marine biological feedback mechanisms that involve a partial decoupling between carbon and nutrients (see Section 3.2.3).

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