The long-feared saturation of one the world’s primary carbon sinks has apparently started. The BBC reports, “The amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the world’s oceans has reduced.”

After 10 years and more than 90,000 ship-based measurements of CO2 absorption, University of East Anglia researchers reached this stunning conclusion:

CO2 uptake halved between the mid-90s and 2000 to 2005.

The BBC writes: “Scientists believe global warming might get worse if the oceans soak up less of the greenhouse gas.”

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Sigh. Note to the BBC, you don’t need a double hedge: If you’re going to just say “might get worse” you surely can drop “Scientists believe.” Frankly I doubt you can find many, if any, reputable scientists — or even the few remaining deniers — who would say that if the ocean sink saturates, global warming won’t get worse. I would probably phrase it this way: Global warming will accelerate if the oceans soak up less of the greenhouse gas.

The researchers say, “it is a tremendous surprise and very worrying because there were grounds for believing that in time the ocean might become ‘saturated’ with our emissions — unable to soak up any more.”

Why is that bad news?

Of all the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, only half of it stays there; the rest goes into carbon sinks.

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There are two major natural carbon sinks: the oceans and the land “biosphere.” They are equivalent in size, each absorbing a quarter of all CO2 emissions.

If the oceans stop taking up CO2, the atmosphere will inevitably take up more, accelerating global warming.

One question to readers: the BBC says this work is “published in a paper for the Journal of Geophysical Research.” I can’t find the paper online. If anyone finds a link, please send it to me, and I’ll excerpt and post it.

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This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.