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Incoming sunlight, outgoing heat
Human-Generated Carbon & Ocean Change (00:01:23)
[08-Oct-09] At the most basic level, the balance between incoming sunlight and outgoing heat determines Earth's climate. Greenhouse gases act like a blanket, and trap heat in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. In the past two centuries, humans have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by more than 30%, by burning fossil-fuels and cutting down forests. The Earth has not experienced carbon dioxide levels this high for the past several million years.

Researchers are learning that future climate change will depend on carbon levels in the land, in the atmosphere, and in the sea, and how these levels respond to human disturbance. About one-third of all human-generated carbon emissions has dissolved into the ocean. More than 80 percent of Earth's added heat is now stored in the ocean.

Scott Doney: "In the future, as the planet gets warmer, the water's going to warm up, and warm water can hold less carbon than cold water - the other thing is, on a warmer planet, some of the currents are going to slow down, so we might not be forming as much of this cold deep water. So we won't be able to transport carbon into the deep sea. So on the whole, the ocean's going to become less effective at removing carbon from the atmosphere." View full movie here. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.