There is not one, but two multi-million-dollar projects in play to get a better handle on how the Labrador Sea affects the Earth’s climate. Memorial University is involved.

One study, known as “VITALs,” is a Canadian-wide initiative of scientists from Canadian universities and federal government laboratories who are interested in the Labrador Sea’s uptake of oxygen and carbon, and its heat exchange with the atmosphere.

Researchers believe understanding, and modelling these phenomena of the Labrador Sea will  help the world  better predict our future climate; important stuff for a world actively ignoring global climate change.

According to Dr. Brad de Young of Memorial University, the Labrador Sea is one of three areas on the planet where “deep ocean breathes the atmosphere [and] we want to measure how that happens.”

Memorial’s role is focused on the deployment of instruments and numerical modelling. This summer, Dr. de Young led a team to the region to deploy moorings along the shelf and into the deep ocean. These moorings and mobile platforms will remain in place and collect data over a period of at least four years.

Dr. de Young is also involved in the international Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program, or O SNAP (Yes, really, best science project name around?)

O SNAP is designed to provide a continuous record of the full-water column circulation, which sees surface currents taking warm water in one direction while the deeper colder water circulates in another.

Understanding these currents and their impacts on weather and climate in the North Atlantic will begin this summer with the deployment of an array of sensors and floats which will collect data over the next several years.

“There is a circulation, called the meridional overturning circulation, which is a large-scale climate-driven circulation that has a hundred-year timescale.” said Dr. de Young.

“We want to measure the variability of this circulation over the years and decades to see if climate-related influences can be measured from that circulation.”

Dr. de Young says the two projects are complementary.

While one looks at the very large scale circulation character of the North Atlantic, the other focuses on what happens in this particularly intense region of convection − convection being where the water cools at the surface to such an extent that it sinks down to the near bottom part of the ocean.

Because the ocean is so deep, and stratified with temperature and salt, it behaves in a more complicated manner than a lake. “The overturning only happens in Greenland, Antarctica, and the Labrador Sea.”

Studying the Labrador Sea will help us understand what regulates carbon dioxide exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere.

“Clearly carbon dioxide is tied to the whole climate change question, because carbon dioxide levels continue to rise in the atmosphere, and over the last hundred years, the ocean has taken up a fair bit of the carbon dioxide. About a third of the carbon dioxide that’s emitted anthropogenically [is absorbed by] the ocean.”

In other words, since mankind has been burning fossil fuels, the ocean has been buffering our output of climate-change inducing CO2 emissions. But here’s the scary part: scientists are finding evidence that CO2 uptake by the ocean is slowing down.

“The question will logically be what happens to global climate warming if the atmospheric concentrations [of CO2] increase more quickly because the uptake by the ocean slows down?”