Effects of the pH/pCO2 control method in the growth medium of phytoplankton

To study the effects of ocean acidification on the physiology of phytoplankton requires that the key chemical parameters of the growth medium, pCO2, pH and Ω (the saturation state of calcium carbonate) be carefully controlled. This is made difficult by the interdependence of these parameters. Moreover, in growing batch cultures of phytoplankton, the fixation of CO2, the uptake of nutrients and, for coccolithophores, the precipitation of calcite all change the inorganic carbon and acid-base chemistry of the medium. For example, absent pH-buffering or CO2 bubbling, a sizeable decrease in pCO2 occurs at a biomass concentration as low as 50 μM C in non-calcifying cultures. Even in cultures where pCO2 or pH is maintained constant, other chemical parameters change substantially at high cell densities. The quantification of these changes is facilitated by the use of buffer capacities. Experimentally we observe that all methods of adjustment of pCO2/pH can be used, the choice of one or the other depending on the specifics of the experiments. The mechanical effect of bubbling of cultures seems to induce more variable results than other methods of pCO2/pH control. While highly convenient, the addition of pH buffers to the medium induces changes in trace metal availability and cannot be used under trace metal-limiting conditions.

Shi D., Xu Y. & Morel F. M. M., 2009. Effects of the pH/pCO2 control method in the growth medium of phytoplankton. Biogeosciences 6(7): 1199-1207. Article.

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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