The response of marine carbon and nutrient cycles to ocean acidification: Large uncertainties related to phytoplankton physiological assumptions

Alongside climate change, anthropogenic emissions of CO2 will cause ocean acidification (OA), which will impact upon key biogeochemical processes in the ocean such as net primary production (NPP), carbon export (CEX), N2 fixation (NFIX), denitrification (DENIT), and ocean suboxia (SOX). However, appraising the impact of OA on marine biogeochemical cycles requires ocean general circulation and biogeochemistry models (OGCBMs) that necessitate a number of assumptions regarding the response of phytoplankton physiological processes to OA. Of particular importance are changes in C:N:P stoichiometry, which cannot be accounted for in current generation OGCBMs that rely on fixed Redfield C:N:P ratios. We developed a new version of the PISCES OGCBM that resolves the cycles of C, N, and P independently to investigate the impact of assumptions that OA (1) enhances NPP, (2) enhances losses of fixed carbon in dissolved organic forms, and (3) modifies the uptake of nutrients by phytoplankton. In total, six simulations were performed over the period 1860–2100. We find that while the prescribed “CO2 sensitivity” of rate processes explains the NPP response, there are large uncertainties in the response of CEX, NFIX, DENIT, and SOX related to assumptions regarding the fate of fixed carbon and nutrient uptake. The overall responses of NPP and CEX are opposite and of similar magnitude to those predicted to occur from climate change alone, suggesting that changes in stoichiometry and NPP in response to OA (and probably also climate change) need to be evaluated in non-Redfield coupled-climate OGCBMs. Using a recent synthesis of OA experiments, it was not possible to evaluate whether one or more of our scenarios was most likely. Future coupled experimental modeling approaches are necessary to better understand the impact of OA on ocean biogeochemistry.

Tagliabue A., Bopp L., & Gehlen M., 2011. The response of marine carbon and nutrient cycles to ocean acidification: Large uncertainties related to phytoplankton physiological assumptions. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 25:GB3017. Article (subscription required).


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