The Northwest Atlantic Biological Carbon Pump

Lay Summary 

The ocean stores an enormous amount of carbon and heat, and in doing so regulates Earth’s climate.  This project focuses on an important aspect of the ocean’s carbon storage referred to as the biological carbon pump (BCP). When tiny algae in the ocean grow, they take up CO2. When some of these algae, or feces from small animals that ate them, sink to the deep ocean (e.g., below 1000 m), the carbon they contain is removed from contact with the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. This can be thought of as biological processes pumping carbon into the deep ocean. Without the BCP, carbon dioxide concentrations would be nearly double the amount in the atmosphere today and Earth’s climate would be radically different. In the Northwest Atlantic and Canadian Arctic Gateway, algae accumulate in the spring. This algae growth, together with the sinking of cold, carbon-rich water, moves huge amounts of carbon from the surface to the deep ocean. Currently, we do not have measurements or models to reliably predict how these processes will change as the climate warms.


This project will bring together oceanographic researchers, ocean engineers, social scientists, government, industry, and Indigenous partners to:

  • Improve our ability to monitor and measure changes in algal growth and the strength of the BCP
  • Improve our understanding of how environmental conditions affect the BCP
  • Develop high-resolution models to estimate algal growth and the BCP in the past and future
  • Create governance, human rights law, and policy frameworks to improve decision-making from local to international levels 


More information about this project can be found here.


Adapted from

Ocean Sciences
Newfoundland and Labrador
Nova Scotia
Climate Change
Cold Ocean and Arctic, Science, Technology and Society
Start date 
1 Jan 2020
Lead Organization 
Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI)
Partner Organization 
Dalhousie University
Memorial University
University of Alberta
Alfred Wegener Institute
Christian-Albrechts-Universitat zu Kiel
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Oceans Research
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Marine Institute (Ireland)
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
RBR Limited
Ocean School/NFB
Nunatsiavut Government
Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs
Dartmouth Ocean Technologies
Kraken Robotic Systems Incorporated