Abiotic versus biotic drivers of ocean pH variation under fast sea ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica

TitleAbiotic versus biotic drivers of ocean pH variation under fast sea ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsMatson P.G, Washburn L., Martz T.R, Hofmann G.E
JournalPlos One
Date Published2014/09
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1932-6203
Accession NumberWOS:000341774800055
Keywordsacidification; cape evans; carbonic-acid; microbial communities; patterns; photosynthesis; Primary productivity; ross sea; Shelf; southern-ocean

Ocean acidification is expected to have a major effect on the marine carbonate system over the next century, particularly in high latitude seas. Less appreciated is natural environmental variation within these systems, particularly in terms of pH, and how this natural variation may inform laboratory experiments. In this study, we deployed sensor-equipped moorings at 20 m depths at three locations in McMurdo Sound, comprising deep (bottom depth>200 m: Hut Point Peninsula) and shallow environments (bottom depth similar to 25 m: Cape Evans and New Harbor). Our sensors recorded high-frequency variation in pH (Hut Point and Cape Evans only), tide (Cape Evans and New Harbor), and water mass properties (temperature and salinity) during spring and early summer 2011. These collective observations showed that (1) pH differed spatially both in terms of mean pH (Cape Evans: 8.009 +/- 0.015; Hut Point: 8.020 +/- 0.007) and range of pH (Cape Evans: 0.090; Hut Point: 0.036), and (2) pH was not related to the mixing of two water masses, suggesting that the observed pH variation is likely not driven by this abiotic process. Given the large daily fluctuation in pH at Cape Evans, we developed a simple mechanistic model to explore the potential for biotic processes - in this case algal photosynthesis - to increase pH by fixing carbon from the water column. For this model, we incorporated published photosynthetic parameters for the three dominant algal functional groups found at Cape Evans (benthic fleshy red macroalgae, crustose coralline algae, and sea ice algal communities) to estimate oxygen produced/carbon fixed from the water column underneath fast sea ice and the resulting pH change. These results suggest that biotic processes may be a primary driver of pH variation observed under fast sea ice at Cape Evans and potentially at other shallow sites in McMurdo Sound.

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