A&M-CC Ph.D. Student Uncovers New Carbon Cycle Information

Published: September 11, 2017

A&M-CC Ph.D. Student Uncovers New Carbon Cycle Information

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – One graduate assistant was able to contribute to the scientific understanding of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in our ocean waters thanks to the confidence she gained at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Hongjie Wang, graduate research assistant and doctoral candidate studying coastal and marine system sciences, worked with Dr. Xinping Hu, Assistant Professor of Chemical Oceanography at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, to discover why the water along continental shelves and nearby deeper waters, also known as ocean margins, contributes to global atmospheric CO2 levels.

With this new information, researchers will be able to expand their understanding of the carbon cycle. In turn, they will also learn more about global warming and climate change.

The increase in CO2 will have an indirect impact on people living along the coast, explained Hu, because sea level rise is tied to global warming. Thankfully, a more comprehensive understanding of the carbon cycle will mean a better understanding and solutions to these issues.

“By adding our understanding to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, an international group that focuses on global climate change, we can have a complete global response to the CO2 increase,” said Wang.  

The idea for the research emerged as Wang browsed datasets for fun. A spark of inspiration occurred when she noticed the CO2 levels along the east and west coast of the United States differed. With encouragement and professional advice from Hu, she found that the combination of the geographic location and the ocean currents affected whether the water took in or released more CO2.

This discovery propelled her research further. She went on to interpret the evolution of CO2 sinks, areas that take in more CO2 than released, in ocean margins over the past few decades. To explain what she discovered, Wang used a soda analogy.

“Imagine opening a soda and hearing a fizz. When you hear that fizz, it means the carbon dioxide goes from the drink into our atmosphere. This is because the CO2 concentration in the drink is much higher than in the atmosphere,” said Wang. “That’s how CO2 usually moves from the atmosphere into the open ocean‒the CO2 concentration in the open ocean is lower than the atmosphere. Ocean margins are different. The CO2 distribution fluctuates more in a short time.”

According to Wang, it’s both critical and challenging to address how the CO2 sink and source capacity changes in the ocean margins.

Her hard work was paid-off when her manuscript, titled “Decadal fCO2 Trends in Global Ocean Margins and Adjacent Boundary Current-Influenced Areas,” documenting these findings was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

“Geophysical Research Letters is one of the top journals in geoscience,” said Hu. “It’s great recognition for all the hard work Hongjie put in.”

For Wang, her accomplishments could not have been possible without the experiences and skilled guidance she received at the Island University. The method for her current research began two years ago when working on a different project with Hu and Dr. Blair Sterba-Boatwright, Professor of Mathematics at A&M-Corpus Christi. By working with experts, she gained the confidence necessary to push herself forward into her carbon cycle research. Wang’s funding as a research assistant was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

With the confidence gained by this new understanding and having her manuscript published, Wang has her eyes set on graduation in May 2018. She is thrilled to continue related research in uncharted territories.