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ORCAS: The O2/N2 Ratio and CO2 Airborne Southern Ocean (ORCAS) Study


The O2/N2 Ratio and CO2 Airborne Southern Ocean (ORCAS) Study is an NSF sponsored airborne field campaign with research flights planned from Punta Arenas, Chile during January and February of 2016.  
The Southern Ocean plays a dominant role in the uptake of anthropogenic carbon yet this process is poorly represented by models and its future trajectory remains highly uncertain. ORCAS will advance our understanding of the physical and biological controls on air-sea exchange of O2 and CO2 in the Southern Ocean. This will be achieved through intensive airborne surveys of atmospheric O2, CO2, related gases, and ocean surface properties over diverse biogeochemical regions adjacent to the southern tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. ORCAS will utilize the NSF/NCAR Gulfstream V (GV) aircraft with a suite of high-precision in situ and remote sensing instruments, combined with whole-air samplers on 14 flights over a period of 6 weeks in austral mid-summer. In addition to the core O2, CO2, and related gas measurements, the project will include hyperspectral remote sensing of the ocean surface and characterization of the emissions of biogenic reactive gases over the Southern Ocean. The ORCAS observations will be guided by and used to test a suite of ocean biogeochemistry models to improve our understanding of key processes and feedbacks in an undersampled yet climatically important part of the world.

The Southern Ocean plays a critical role in setting the overturning circulation for the global oceans, and determining the partitioning of heat and dissolved gases between the atmosphere and deep ocean. The region is particularly sensitive to climate forcing, and evidence suggests that it is already responding to observed changes. The Southern Ocean currently absorbs a significant amount of human emitted CO2, but the future behavior of this sink is uncertain. Sparse observations and complex interacting physical and biological processes limit our understanding of biogeochemistry and climate feedbacks at high southern latitudes. The ORCAS measurements will add new observational constraints with unprecedented spatial coverage for Southern Ocean biogeochemical variables. In particular, the combination of atmospheric O2 and CO2 measurements will enable disentangling key drivers of air-sea CO2 exchange. ORCAS will deliver precise and zonally-representative measurements of the spatiotemporal evolution of summertime hemispheric-scale atmospheric O2 and CO2 over the Southern Ocean. These data will be used to challenge state-of-the-art Earth system models. The CO2:O2 ratios derived from vertical concentration gradients and fluxes derived from intensive boundary layer sampling will further elucidate the balance between thermal and biological forcing of CO2 at regional scales. Collectively, the ORCAS measurements will improve understanding of the present day biogeochemical drivers of Southern Ocean air-sea CO2 and related gas fluxes, laying the groundwork for better mechanistic representation of feedbacks to climate change.

ORCAS will generate a valuable and publicly available data set for use in improving Earth system models, with the resulting societal benefits of greater understanding of Southern Ocean biogeochemistry and more accurate climate projections for decision support. By crossing traditional disciplinary and methodological boundaries, ORCAS will address a broad need to more closely integrate biogeochemical observations and models to better make use of the measurements and accelerate model improvement.

Data access

Datasets from this project

Additional information

Field catalog
Related links

Temporal coverage

Begin Date 2016-01-10 00:00:00
End Date 2016-03-01 23:59:59

Spatial coverage

Map data from IBCSO, IBCAO, and Global Topography.

Maximum (North) Latitude: -30.00, Minimum (South) Latitude: -80.00
Minimum (West) Longitude: -105.00, Maximum (East) Longitude: -30.00