We guessed that the reservoir was the deep ocean, which does have an adequate capacity to hold the reservoir CO2 in solution. If the deep ocean is the reservoir, its carbon-14 concentration has been measured to be 0.8 ppt, which is indeed less than the atmosphere's 1.0 ppt. Assuming the concentration of the reservoir is 0.8 ppt, we conclude that the carbon dioxide exchange rate in our natural, equilibrium atmosphere is 140 Pg/yr of CO2 (or 37 Pg/yr of carbon), while the reservoir holds 280,000 Pg of CO2 (or 77,000 Pg of carbon). Because our equilibrium atmosphere itself holds 2,400 Pg of CO2 (or 650 Pg of carbon), we see that 5.6% of the CO2 in the atmosphere enters the reservoir every year and is replaced by a like amount emerging from the reservoir. Furthermore, the reservoir holds 120 times as much CO2 as the atmosphere.
In future posts, we will find that the vast size of the reservoir, combined with the ready exchange of carbon dioxide between it and the atmosphere, imply that continuing to burn fossil fuels at the rate we are today will take thousands of years to cause a doubling in the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere. Before we proceed, however, let us consider how our estimate of the size of the reservoir and the magnitude of the exchange are affected by uncertainty in the one parameter that we have guessed at: the concentration of carbon-14 in the reservoir. This concentration must be less than 1.0 ppt, and we guessed it is 0.8 ppt. But perhaps it is 0.7 ppt or 0.9 ppt. Using the equations we derived last time, we re-calculate the carbon exchange rate and the reservoir size for these concentrations.
(Pg/yr of Carbon)
(Pg of Carbon)
In Arnold et al., the authors present measurements of carbon-14 concentration in various layers of the ocean, in vegetation, and in soil, relative to the carbon-14 concentration in the atmosphere. These vary from 80% to 96% of the atmospheric concentration, with the deep oceans having the lowest concentration. The concentration in our reservoir must lie somewhere in the range 0.8-1.0 ppt. If the concentration is higher than 0.8 ppt, the reservoir will be slightly smaller, but the exchange rate will be much higher. At 0.9 ppt, for example, the exchange rate will be double what it is for 0.8 ppt. We see that our estimate of the exchange rate, being based upon a reservoir concentration of 0.8 ppt, is a conservative one, while our estimate of the reservoir size is bound to be close. We can now proceed with confidence in our analysis, knowing that we are certain not to over-estimate the exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the reservoir.