Responses of marine primary producers to interactions between ocean acidification, solar radiation, and warming

Anthropogenic CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere and trapping reflected infrared radiation, resulting in warming of both terrestrial and ocean ecosystems. At the same time, the dissolution of CO2 into seawater is increasing surface ocean acidity, a process known as ocean acidification. Effects of ocean acidification on marine primary producers have been documented to be stimulative, inhibitive, or neutral. Elevated CO2 and reduced pH levels can interact with solar radiation, which fluctuates over different time scales from limiting to saturating or even stressful levels, to bring about synergistic, antagonistic, or balanced effects on marine primary producers at different depths or under changing weather conditions. However, shoaling of the upper mixed layer (enhanced stratification) due to ocean warming and freshening (rain, ice melting) can lead to additional photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and ultraviolet (UV) exposure, which can have both benefits and costs to photosynthetic organisms. Elevated CO2 concentrations under low or moderate levels of PAR have been shown to enhance photosynthesis or growth of both phytoplankton and macroalgae; excessive levels of PAR, however, can lead to additional inhibition of photosynthesis or growth under elevated CO2, and addition of UV radiation (280 to 400 nm) can increase or down-regulate such inhibition, since solar UV-B (280 to 315 nm) radiation often harms algal cells, while UV-A (315 to 400 nm) at moderate levels stimulates photosynthetic carbon fixation in both phytoplankton and macroalgae. In view of warming effects, increased temperatures have been shown to enhance photorepair of UV-damaged molecules, though it simultaneously enhances respiratory carbon loss. The net effects of ocean acidification on marine primary producers are therefore largely dependent on the photobiological conditions (light limitation, light or UV stress), as well as interactions with rising temperature and other variables such as altered nutrient availability. Hence, feedbacks between changing carbonate chemistry and solar radiation across the entire spectrum present complications to interpret and understand ocean acidification effects based on single-factor experiments.

Gao K., Helbling E. W., Häder D. P. & Hutchins D. A., 2012. Responses of marine primary producers to interactions between ocean acidification, solar radiation, and warming. Marine Ecology Progress Series 470: 167-189. Article.

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