Acidifying intermediate water accelerates the acidification of seawater on shelves: an example of the East China Sea

This study is the first to present observed acidification rates at the shelf break of the East China Sea (ECS) and in the Okinawa Trough between 1982 and 2007. The use of apparent oxygen utilization (AOU) data to quantify the change in pH due to physical changes and changes in biological activities is demonstrated. The results thus obtained reveal that the drop in pH of the Kuroshio Intermediate Water (KIW) in the ECS is a result of not only the intrusion of atmospheric CO2, but also an increase in AOU concentration. The acidification rates caused by the increasing AOU concentration could contribute up to -0.00086±0.00017 pH unit yr-1 at 900 m in the Okinawa Trough and -0.00082±0.00057 pH unit yr-1 on the shelf break of the ECS. These values are equivalent to 54% and 51%, respectively, of the acidification rate of -0.0016 pH unit yr-1 based on an assumption of the air-sea CO2 equilibrium. When the effects of changing AOU and θ are eliminated, the acidification rate in the basin of the ECS captures the rate of change that is caused by an increase in anthropogenic CO2 concentration. In contrast, when the effects of changing AOU and θ are eliminated, the acidification rate at the shelf break is 69% higher than the rate based on an assumption of the air-sea CO2 equilibrium. Since the seawater on the shelf contains a higher proportion of the South China Sea (SCS) seawater and coastal water than does that in the Okinawa Trough, the result herein may imply that the SCS seawater, coastal water, or a combination of them suffered a higher acidification rate during the studied period. This study, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, is the first to demonstrate that changing the carbonate chemistry of both incoming offshore intermediate seawater and coastal water results in the acidification of seawater on a continental shelf. The results herein reveal a situation in which the acidification of coastal seawater may be faster than expected when the reduction of pH of the incoming offshore seawater is considered along with the increasing atmospheric CO2 and terrestrial nutrient fluxes.

Lui H.-K., Arthur Chen C.-T., Lee J., Wang S.-L., Gong G.-C., Bai Y. & He X., in press. Acidifying intermediate water accelerates the acidification of seawater on shelves: An example of the east China SEA. Continental Shelf Research. Article (subscription required).


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