Effects of ocean acidification on the ballast of surface aggregates sinking through the twilight zone

The dissolution of CaCO3 is one of the ways ocean acidification can, potentially, greatly affect the ballast of aggregates. A diminution of the ballast could reduce the settling speed of aggregates, resulting in a change in the carbon flux to the deep sea. This would mean lower amounts of more refractory organic matter reaching the ocean floor. This work aimed to determine the effect of ocean acidification on the ballast of sinking surface aggregates. Our hypothesis was that the decrease of pH will increase the dissolution of particulate inorganic carbon ballasting the aggregates, consequently reducing their settling velocity and increasing their residence time in the upper twilight zone. Using a new methodology for simulation of aggregate settling, our results suggest that future pCO2 conditions can significantly change the ballast composition of sinking aggregates. The change in aggregate composition had an effect on the size distribution of the aggregates, with a shift to smaller aggregates. A change also occurred in the settling velocity of the particles, which would lead to a higher residence time in the water column, where they could be continuously degraded. In the environment, such an effect would result in a reduction of the carbon flux to the deep-sea. This reduction would impact those benthic communities, which rely on the vertical flow of carbon as primary source of energy.

de Jesus Mendes P. A. & Thomsen L., 2012. Effects of ocean acidification on the ballast of surface aggregates sinking through the twilight zone. PLoS ONE 7(12): e50865. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050865. Article.

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