High-magnesium calcite dissolution in tropical continental shelf sediments controlled by ocean acidification

Increases in atmospheric CO2 cause the oceanic surface water to continuously acidify, which has multiple and profound impacts on coastal and continental shelf environments. Here we present the carbonate mineral composition in surface sediments from a range of continental shelf seabed environments and their current and predicted stability under ocean acidifying conditions. Samples come from the following four tropical Australian regions: 1. Capricorn Reef (southern end of the Great Barrier Reef); 2. the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon; 3. Torres Strait; and 4. the eastern Joseph Bonaparte Gulf. Beyond the near-shore zone, these regions typically have a carbonate content in surface sediments of 80 wt% or more. The abundance of high magnesium-calcites (HMC) dominates over aragonite (Arag) and low magnesium-calcite (LMC) and constitutes between 36 and 50% of all carbonate. HMC with a magnesium content larger than 8 – 12 mol% is more soluble than both Arag and LMC and the solubility of HMC positively correlates with its magnesium concentration. Using the solubility data by Plummer and Mackenzie (1974) (1), 95% of HMC in the four regions is presently in metastable equilibrium relative to global mean tropical sea surface water. HMC is predicted to become destabilised in the four regions between 2040 to 2080 AD, with typical HMC decline rates between 2 and 5% per year. The range of respective estimated carbonate dissolution rates is expected to exceed current continental shelf carbonate accumulation rates leading to net dissolution of carbonate during the period of HMC decline. In a geological context, the decline in HMC in tropical continental shelf environments is a global event triggered by reaching below-equilibrium conditions. The characteristic change in carbonate mineral composition in continental shelf sediments will serve as a geological marker for the proposed Anthropocene Epoch.

Haese, R.R., Smith, J., Weber, R.  & Trafford, J., 2014. High-magnesium calcite dissolution in tropical continental shelf sediments controlled by ocean acidification. Environmental Science & Technology. Article.

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