The phenomenon wasn't expected to be apparent for decades, Le Quere said in a telephone interview from the
The Southern Ocean is one of the world's biggest reservoirs of carbon, known as a carbon sink. When carbon is in a sink -- whether it's an ocean or a forest, both of which can lock up carbon dioxide -- it stays out of the atmosphere and does not contribute to global warming.
The new research, published in the latest edition of the journal Science, indicates that the Southern Ocean has been saturated with carbon dioxide at least since the 1980s. This is significant because the Southern Ocean accounts for 15 percent of the global carbon sink, Le Quere said.