The response of Antarctic sea ice algae to changes in pH and CO2

Ocean acidification substantially alters ocean carbon chemistry and hence pH but the effects on sea ice formation and the CO2 concentration in the enclosed brine channels are unknown. Microbial communities inhabiting sea ice ecosystems currently contribute 10–50% of the annual primary production of polar seas, supporting overwintering zooplankton species, especially Antarctic krill, and seeding spring phytoplankton blooms. Ocean acidification is occurring in all surface waters but the strongest effects will be experienced in polar ecosystems with significant effects on all trophic levels. Brine algae collected from McMurdo Sound (Antarctica) sea ice was incubated in situ under various carbonate chemistry conditions. The carbon chemistry was manipulated with acid, bicarbonate and bases to produce a pCO2 and pH range from 238 to 6066 µatm and 7.19 to 8.66, respectively. Elevated pCO2 positively affected the growth rate of the brine algal community, dominated by the unique ice dinoflagellate, Polarella glacialis. Growth rates were significantly reduced when pH dropped below 7.6. However, when the pH was held constant and the pCO2 increased, growth rates of the brine algae increased by more than 20% and showed no decline at pCO2 values more than five times current ambient levels. We suggest that projected increases in seawater pCO2, associated with OA, will not adversely impact brine algal communities.

McMinn A., Müller M. N., Martin A. & Ryan K. G., 2014. The response of Antarctic sea ice algae to changes in pH and CO2.  PLoS ONE 9(1): e86984. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086984. Article.

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