Methyl bromide: Ocean sources, ocean sinks, and climate sensitivity

A. D. Anbar, Y. L. Yung, F. P. Chavez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The oceans play an important role in the geochemical cycle of methyl bromide (CH3Br), the major carrier of O3-destroying bromine to the stratosphere. The quantity of CH3Br produced annually in seawater is comparable to the amount entering the atmosphere each year from natural and anthropogenic sources. The production mechanism is unknown but may be biological. Most of this CH3Br is consumed in situ by hydrolysis or reaction with chloride. The size of the fraction which escapes to the atmosphere is poorly constrained; measurements in seawater and the atmosphere have been used to justify both a large oceanic CH3Br flux to the atmosphere and a small net ocean sink. Since the consumption reactions are extremely temperature-sensitive, small temperature variations have large effects on the CH3Br concentration in seawater, and therefore on the exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean. The net CH3Br flux is also sensitive to variations in the rate of CH3Br production. We have quantified these effects using a simple steady state mass balance model. When CH3Br production rates are linearly scaled with seawater chlorophyll content, this model reproduces the latitudinal variations in marine CH3Br concentrations observed in the east Pacific Ocean by Singh et al. [1983] and by Lobert et al. [1995]. The apparent correlation of CH3Br production with primary production explains the discrepancies between the two observational studies, strengthening recent suggestions that the open ocean is a small net sink for atmospheric CH3Br, rather than a large net source. The Southern Ocean is implicated as a possible large net source of CH3Br to the atmosphere. Since our model indicates that both the direction and magnitude of CH3Br exchange between the atmosphere and ocean are extremely sensitive to temperature and marine productivity, and since the rate of CH3Br production in the oceans is comparable to the rate at which this compound is introduced to the atmosphere, even small perturbations to temperature or productivity can modify atmospheric CH3Br. Therefore atmospheric CH3Br should be sensitive to climate conditions. Our modeling indicates that climate-induced CH3Br variations can be larger than those resulting from small (±25%) changes in the anthropogenic source, assuming that this source comprises less than half of all inputs. Future measurements of marine CH3Br, temperature, and primary production should be combined with such models to determine the relationship between marine biological activity and CH3Br production. Better understanding of the biological term is especially important to assess the importance of non anthropogenic sources to stratospheric ozone loss and the sensitivity of these sources to global climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-190
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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