Carbon system measurements and potential climatic drivers at a site of rapidly declining ocean pH

We explored changes in ocean pH in coastal Washington state, USA, by extending a decadal-scale pH data series, by reporting independent measures of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), spectrophotometric pH, and total alkalinity (TA), by exploring pH patterns over larger spatial scales, and by probing for long-term trends in environmental variables reflecting potentially important drivers of pH. We found that pH continued to decline in this area at a rapid rate, that pH exhibited high natural variability within years, that our measurements of pH corresponded well to spectrophotometric pH measures and expected pH calculated from DIC/TA, and that TA estimates based on salinity predicted well actual alkalinity. Multiple datasets reflecting upwelling, including water temperature, nutrient levels, phytoplankton abundance, the NOAA upwelling index, and data on local wind patterns showed no consistent trends over the period of our study. Multiple datasets reflecting precipitation change and freshwater runoff, including precipitation records, local and regional river discharge, salinity, nitrate and sulfate in rainwater, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in rivers also showed no consistent trends over time. Dissolved oxygen did not decline over time, indicating that long-term changes did not result from shifts in contributions of respiration to pH levels. These tests of multiple potential drivers of the observed rapid rate of pH decline indicate a primary role for inorganic carbon and suggest that geochemical models of coastal ocean carbon fluxes need increased investigation.

Wootton J. T. & Pfister C. A., 2012. Carbon system measurements and potential climatic drivers at a site of rapidly declining ocean pH. PLoS ONE 7(12): e53396. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053396. Article.

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