Understanding the mechanisms of dissolved oxygen trends and variability in the ocean
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A widely observed tracer in the field of oceanography is dissolved oxygen (O2). A tracer crucial to ocean biogeochemical cycles, O2 plays an active role in chemical processes, marine life, and ecosystems. Recent advances in observation and numerical simulation have introduced opportunities for furthering our understanding of the variability and long-term changes in oceanic O2. This work examines the underlying mechanisms driving O2 variability and long-term changes. It focuses on two distinct time-scales: intra-seasonal variability (i.e., a time scale of less than a month) and centennial changes in O2. The first half of this work analyzes state-of-the-art observations from a profiling float in an investigation of the mechanisms driving the intra-seasonal variability of oceanic O2. Observations from the float show enhanced intra-seasonal variability (i.e., a time scale of about two weeks) that could be driven by isopycnal heaving resulting from internal waves or tidal processes. Observed signals could result from aliased signals from internal waves or tides and should be taken into account in analyses of the growing observational dataset. The methods proposed in this study may be useful for future analyses of high-frequency tracer variability associated with mesoscale and sub-mesoscale processes. Using outputs from state-of-the-art earth system models and a suite of sensitivity experiments based on a general circulation and biogeochemistry ocean model, the second half of this work focuses on investigating mechanisms regulating centennial changes in O2. It explores the aspect of anthropogenic climate change (e.g., changes in the sea surface temperature and wind stress fields) that significantly impacts oceanic O2, focusing specifically on tropical oxygen minimum zones. Results suggest that ocean heating induces a water mass shift, leads to decrease apparent oxygen utilization (AOU) in the tropical thermocline. The AOU decrease compensates the effect of decrease in oxygen saturation due to the ocean warming. Our sensitivity experiments show that both physically (i.e., age) and biologically (i.e., the oxygen utilization rate) driven AOU will contribute almost equally to controlling changes in oceanic O2 in the next century. However, additional sensitivity experiments indicate that physically and biologically driven AOU balance has regional characteristics. We need to address the unanswered question of how varying large-scale oceanic circulations regulate this balance and answer fundamental questions that lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms that control the variability and the future evolution of oceanic O2.