Calibration of temperature-dependent ocean microbial processes in the cGENIE.muffin (v0.9.13) Earth system model

Katherine Crichton*, J.D. Wilson, Andy Ridgwell, Paul N Pearson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Temperature is a master parameter in the marine carbon cycle, exerting a critical control on the rate of biological transformation of a variety of solid and dissolved reactants and substrates. Although in the construction of numerical models of marine carbon cycling, temperature has been long recognised as a key parameter in the production and export of organic matter at the ocean surface, its role in the ocean interior is much less frequently accounted for. There, bacteria (primarily) transform sinking particulate organic matter (POM) into its dissolved constituents and consume dissolved oxygen (and/or other electron acceptors such as sulfate). The nutrients and carbon thereby released then become available for transport back to the surface, influencing biological productivity and atmospheric pCO2, respectively. Given the substantial changes in ocean temperature occurring in the past, as well as in light of current anthropogenic warming, appropriately accounting for the role of temperature in marine carbon cycling may be critical to correctly projecting changes in ocean deoxygenation and the strength of feedbacks on atmospheric pCO2.

Here we extend and calibrate a temperature-dependent representation of marine carbon cycling in the cGENIE.muffin Earth system model, intended for both past and future climate applications. In this, we combine a temperature-dependent remineralisation scheme for sinking organic matter with a biological export production scheme that also includes a dependence on ambient seawater temperature. Via a parameter ensemble, we jointly calibrate the two parameterisations by statistically contrasting model-projected fields of nutrients, oxygen, and the stable carbon isotopic signature (δ13C) of dissolved inorganic carbon in the ocean with modern observations. We additionally explore the role of temperature in the creation and recycling of dissolved organic matter (DOM) and hence its impact on global carbon cycle dynamics.

We find that for the present day, the temperature-dependent version shows a fit to the data that is as good as or better than the existing tuned non-temperature-dependent version of the cGENIE.muffin. The main impact of accounting for temperature-dependent remineralisation of POM is in driving higher rates of remineralisation in warmer waters, in turn driving a more rapid return of nutrients to the surface and thereby stimulating organic matter production. As a result, more POM is exported below 80 m but on average reaches shallower depths in middle- and low-latitude warmer waters compared to the standard model. Conversely, at higher latitudes, colder water temperature reduces the rate of nutrient resupply to the surface and POM reaches greater depth on average as a result of slower subsurface rates of remineralisation. Further adding temperature-dependent DOM processes changes this overall picture only a little, with a slight weakening of export production at higher latitudes.

As an illustrative application of the new model configuration and calibration, we take the example of historical warming and briefly assess the implications for global carbon cycling of accounting for a more complete set of temperature-dependent processes in the ocean. We find that between the pre-industrial era (ca. 1700) and the present (year 2010), in response to a simulated air temperature increase of 0.9 ∘C and an associated projected mean ocean warming of 0.12 ∘C (0.6 ∘C in surface waters and 0.02 ∘C in deep waters), a reduction in particulate organic carbon (POC) export at 80 m of just 0.3 % occurs (or 0.7 % including a temperature-dependent DOM response). However, due to this increased recycling nearer the surface, the efficiency of the transfer of carbon away from the surface (at 80 m) to the deep ocean (at 1040 m) is reduced by 5 %. In contrast, with no assumed temperature-dependent processes impacting production or remineralisation of either POM or DOM, global POC export at 80 m falls by 2.9 % between the pre-industrial era and the present day as a consequence of ocean stratification and reduced nutrient resupply to the surface. Our analysis suggests that increased temperature-dependent nutrient recycling in the upper ocean has offset much of the stratification-induced restriction in its physical transport.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125 - 149
Number of pages25
JournalGeoscientific Model Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research has been supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (grant no. NE/N001621/1), the European Research Council (grant no. ERC-2013-CoG-617313), and the National Science Foundation (grant nos. 1702913 and 1736771).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Copernicus GmbH. All rights reserved.


  • Carbon cycle
  • Marine biogeochemistry
  • Earth system modelling
  • Plankton
  • Biological pump


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