NASA Project to More Thoroughly Understand Ocean Carbon Flux

The EXPORTS conceptual diagram illustrates the links among the ocean’s biological pump and pelagic food web and our ability to sample these components from ships, satellites, and autonomous vehicles. Light blue waters are the euphotic zone (EZ), while the darker blue waters represent the twilight zone (TZ). Figure is adapted from Steinberg (in prep.) and the U.S. Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) (

Beginning in summer 2018, twelve groups of scientists will undertake field expeditions to perform robotic sampling, optical instrumentation deployments, light scattering and more as part of a NASA project to more thoroughly understand ocean carbon flux.

The project is called EXPORTS (Export Processes in the Ocean from RemoTe Sensing). Two expeditions with investigators from a wide variety of sciences will encompass science that ranges from sinking particle chemistry to the role of phytoplankton in the carbon cycle, and from dissolved-particulate carbon flux to modeling microscale dynamics of sinking material.

They will combine technologies like satellite imagery, underwater vision profiling (UVP) and laser diffraction (LISST), along with other remote sensing techniques. Their goal: to create a complete picture of the ocean carbon cycle.

Ocean carbon flux is the interconnected cycle of movement of carbon from the air to the sea through a variety of physical and biological processes: surface mixing, wind speed, temperature, alkalinity, salinity, plant photosynthesis and animal respiration.

Project leader Dave Siegel says the project will study in-detail every single component of “the biological pump” — the name for the handy service oceans provide of sinking carbon to be stored on the ocean bed, removing it from the air via biomass.

Studying how carbon moves through the ocean food chain, in particles, processes and different kinds of dissolved organic matter will allow scientists to more accurately model the big picture of carbon and gauge the needed solutions for a return to balance between carbon sinks and sources.

Read more about the EXPORTS project:

Diagram from The EXPORTS Science Plan

Norm Nelson, Uta Passow and Dave Siegel
Photo Credit: Sonia Fernandez

Leave a Reply