Increasing coccolithophore abundance in the subtropical North Atlantic from 1990 to 2014

As environmental conditions evolve with rapidly increasing atmospheric CO2, biological communities will change as species reorient their distributions, adapt, or alter their abundance. In the surface ocean, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) has been increasing over the past several decades as anthropogenic CO2 dissolves into seawater, causing acidification (decreases in pH and carbonate ion concentration). Calcifying phytoplankton, such as coccolithophores, are thought to be especially vulnerable to ocean acidification. How coccolithophores will respond to increasing carbon input has been a subject of much speculation and inspired numerous laboratory and mesocosm experiments, but how they are currently responding in situ is less well documented. In this study, we use coccolithophore pigment data collected at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site together with satellite estimates (1998–2014) of surface chlorophyll and particulate inorganic carbon (PIC) to show that coccolithophore populations in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre have been increasing significantly over the past two decades. Over 1991–2012, we observe a 37 % increase in euphotic zone-integrated coccolithophore abundance at BATS. We further demonstrate that variability in coccolithophore abundance here is positively correlated with variability in DIC (and especially the bicarbonate ion) in the upper 30 m of the water column. Previous studies have suggested that coccolithophore photosynthesis may benefit from increasing CO2, but calcification may eventually be hindered by low pHT (< 7.7). Given that DIC has been increasing at BATS by ∼ 1.4 μmol kg−1 yr−1 over 1991 to 2012, we speculate that coccolithophore photosynthesis and perhaps calcification may have increased in response to anthropogenic CO2 input.

Krumhardt K. M., Lovenduski N. S., Freeman N. M. & Bates N. R., 2015. Increasing coccolithophore abundance in the subtropical North Atlantic from 1990 to 2014. Biogeosciences Discussions 12:18625-18660. Article.

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