Tidally-induced variations of pH at the head of the Laurentian Channel

The head of the Laurentian Channel (LC) is a very dynamic region of exceptional biological richness. To evaluate the impact of freshwater discharge, tidal mixing, and biological activity on the pH of surface waters in this region, a suite of physical and chemical variables was measured throughout the water column over two tidal cycles. The relative contributions to the water column of the four source-water types that converge in this region were evaluated using an optimum multi-parameter algorithm (OMP). Results of the OMP analysis were used to reconstruct the water column properties assuming conservative mixing, and the difference between the model properties and field measurements served to identify factors that control the pH of the surface waters. These surface waters are generally undersaturated with respect to aragonite, mostly due to the intrusion of waters from the Upper St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay Fjord. The presence of a cold intermediate layer impedes the upwelling of the deeper, hypoxic, lower pH and aragonite-undersaturated waters of the Lower St. Lawrence Estuary to depths shallower than 50 meters.

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In vivo pH measurement at the site of calcification in an octocoral

Calcareous octocorals are ecologically important calcifiers, but little is known about their biomineralization physiology, relative to scleractinian corals. Many marine calcifiers promote calcification by up-regulating pH at calcification sites against the surrounding seawater. Here, we investigated pH in the red octocoral Corallium rubrum which forms sclerites and an axial skeleton. To achieve this, we cultured microcolonies on coverslips facilitating microscopy of calcification sites of sclerites and axial skeleton. Initially we conducted extensive characterisation of the structural arrangement of biominerals and calcifying cells in context with other tissues, and then measured pH by live tissue imaging. Our results reveal that developing sclerites are enveloped by two scleroblasts and an extracellular calcifying medium of pH 7.97 ± 0.15. Similarly, axial skeleton crystals are surrounded by cells and a calcifying medium of pH 7.89 ± 0.09. In both cases, calcifying media are more alkaline compared to calcifying cells and fluids in gastrovascular canals, but importantly they are not pH up-regulated with respect to the surrounding seawater, contrary to what is observed in scleractinians. This points to a potential vulnerability of this species to decrease in seawater pH and is consistent with reports that red coral calcification is sensitive to ocean acidification.

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Impacts of ocean acidification on sensory function in marine organisms

Ocean acidification has been identified as a major contributor to ocean ecosystem decline, impacting the calcification, survival, and behavior of marine organisms. Numerous studies have observed altered sensory perception of chemical, auditory, and visual cues after exposure to elevated CO2. Sensory systems enable the observation of the external environment and therefore play a critical role in survival, communication, and behavior of marine organisms. This review seeks to (1) summarize the current knowledge of sensory impairment caused by ocean acidification, (2) discuss potential mechanisms behind this disruption, and (3) analyze the expected taxa differences in sensitivities to elevated CO2 conditions. Although a lack of standardized methodology makes cross-study comparisons challenging, trends and biases arise from this synthesis including a substantial focus on vertebrates, larvae or juveniles, the reef ecosystem, and chemosensory perception. Future studies must broaden the scope of the field by diversifying the taxa and ecosystems studied, incorporating ontogenetic comparisons, and focusing on cryptic sensory systems such as electroreception, magnetic sense, and the lateral line system. A discussion of possible mechanisms reveals GABAA receptor reversal as the conspicuous physiological mechanism. However, the potential remains for alternative disruption through structure or cue changes. Finally, a taxonomic comparison of physiological complexity reveals few trends in sensory sensitivities to lowered pH, but we hypothesize potential correlations relating to habitat, life history or relative use of sensory systems. Elevated CO2, in concordance with other global and local stressors, has the potential to drastically shift community composition and structure. Therefore research addressing the extent of sensory impairment, the underlying mechanisms, and the differences between taxa is vital for improved predictions of organismal response to ocean acidification.

Continue reading ‘Impacts of ocean acidification on sensory function in marine organisms’

Using mineralogy and higher-level taxonomy as indicators of species sensitivity to pH: a case-study of Puget Sound

Information on ecosystem sensitivity to global change can help guide management decisions. Here, we characterize the sensitivity of the Puget Sound ecosystem to ocean acidification by estimating, at a number of taxonomic levels, the direct sensitivity of its species. We compare sensitivity estimates based on species mineralogy and on published literature from laboratory experiments and field studies. We generated information on the former by building a database of species in Puget Sound with mineralogy estimates for all CaCO3-forming species. For the latter, we relied on a recently developed database and meta-analysis on temperate species responses to increased CO2. In general, species sensitivity estimates based on the published literature suggest that calcifying species are more sensitive to increased CO2 than non-calcifying species. However, this generalization is incomplete, as non-calcifying species also show direct sensitivity to high CO2 conditions. We did not find a strong link between mineral solubility and the sensitivity of species survival to changes in carbonate chemistry, suggesting that, at coarse scales, mineralogy plays a lesser role to other physiological sensitivities. Summarizing species sensitivity at the family level resulted in higher sensitivity scalar scores than at the class level, suggesting that grouping results at the class level may overestimate species sensitivity. This result raises caution about the use of broad generalizations on species response to ocean acidification, particularly when developing summary information for specific locations. While we have much to learn about species response to ocean acidification and how to generalize ecosystem response, this study on Puget Sound suggests that detailed information on species performance under elevated carbon dioxide conditions, summarized at the lowest taxonomic level possible, is more valuable than information on species mineralogy.

Continue reading ‘Using mineralogy and higher-level taxonomy as indicators of species sensitivity to pH: a case-study of Puget Sound’

Dissolution of abiogenic and biogenic calcium carbonate under ocean acidification conditions

Under ocean acidification conditions, the chemistry of the seawater will change including a decrease in pH, a decrease in carbonate ion concentration and a decrease in the calcium carbonate saturation state of the water (Ω). This has implications for solid marine calcium carbonates including calcifying organisms and carbonate sediments. The dissolution kinetics of marine carbonates are poorly understood, therefore modelling of the future ocean under ocean acidification scenarios is hampered. The goal of this research was to provide an increased understanding of the kinetics of marine carbonate dissolution, including dependence of the dissolution rate of calcium carbonate mineral phases (calcite, calcite-aragonite, low Mg-calcite) on conditions relevant to ocean acidification, and then to apply this to biogenic samples (Pāua, kina and oyster). The effects of saturation state (Ω), surface area, and temperature were studied. Two methods were refined and used to collect and analyze the dissolution data – a pH-stat method and a pH free-drift method, with manipulation of the carbonate chemistry by addition of NaHCO3 and HCl. A LabVIEW® based program was developed for instrument control and automation and for data acquisition. The empirical equation R = k(1-Ω)n, was used to determine the reaction rates (R), the rate constants (k) and the reaction orders (n) for the each of the mineral phases and shellfish species.

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As oceans acidify, shellfish farmers respond

Scientists collaborate to mitigate climate impacts in the Northwest

Taylor Shellfish Farm’s Quilcene hatchery perches on a narrow peninsula that juts into the sinuous waterways of Washington’s Puget Sound. On the July day I visited, the hatchery and everything surrounding it seemed to drip with fecundity. Clouds banked over darkly forested hills on the opposite shore, and a tangy breeze blew in from across the bay. But the lushness hid an ecosystem’s unraveling.

Climate change is altering the very chemistry of surface seawater, causing ocean acidification, a chemical process that is lowering the amount of calcium marine organisms can access. Acidification is a relative term; the oceans are not actually turning into acid and will not melt surfboards or sea turtles anytime soon. Still, with enough acidification, seawater becomes corrosive to some organisms. Hardest hit are calcifiers, which use aragonite, a form of the mineral calcium carbonate, to make shells, skeletons and other important body parts. Examples of calcifiers include crabs, sea urchins, sea stars, some seaweeds, reef-forming corals, and a type of tiny floating marine snail, or pteropod, called a sea butterfly. Shellfish, including oysters and clams, are also seriously affected. With the disappearance of many of these sea creatures, oceanic food webs will be irrevocably altered by century’s end.

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Alaska ferry to host long-distance ocean acidification study (audio)

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Columbia will be part of an international science experiment starting this fall when it resumes its weekly run between Bellingham, Wash., and Southeast Alaska.

Equipment has been installed to continuously measure the ocean’s acidity along the ferry’s nearly 2,000-mile route. The goal is to better understand how acidification affects regional fisheries.

Continue reading ‘Alaska ferry to host long-distance ocean acidification study (audio)’


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