Some Like It Hot; December 1995; Scientific American Magazine; by Gibbs; 2 Page(s)
How quickly will the world warm? The question is as difficult as it is important. To come up with an accurate answer, scientists have to figure out how the myriad intertwined cycles that regulate the earth's life and climate are reacting to increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that humans are releasing into the atmosphere. One major source of uncertainty is a "missing sink": undiscovered dead ends in the carbon cycle that researchers estimate pull roughly two billion tons of carbon (plus or minus about two billion tons) out of circulation every year.
Scientists searching for the sink have focused mainly on forests and other plant life on land that inhale carbon dioxide. But recent reports from marine biologists at Rhodes University in South Africa suggest that gelatinous, tubelike animals called salps may also be responsible for a portion of the missing carbon. If the complex and dynamic ecosystem in which salps live is any indication, predicting how oceanic life will respond to rising temperature and carbon dioxide levels will be a tricky task indeed.