Spatial variability of surface-sediment porewater pH and related water-column characteristics in deep waters of the northern South China Sea

This study analyzes the pH of surface-sediment porewater (i.e. 2-3 cm below the water-sediment interface), and concentrations of CaCO3 and organic carbon (OC) in 1192 sediment cores from the northern South China Sea, in water depths ranging from 137 to 3702 m. This is the first study in the literature to analyze the large-scale spatial variability of deep-water surface-sediment pH over a large ocean basin. The data showed strong spatial variations in pH. The lowest pH values (<7.3) were observed south of Hainan Island, an area that is affected by summer upwelling and freshwater runoff from the Pearl and Red Rivers. Moderately low pH values (generally 7.3-7.5) occurred in two other areas: a submarine canyon, where sediments originated partly from the Pearl River and correspond to a paleo-delta front during the last glacial period; and southwest of Taiwan Island, where waters are affected by the northern branch of the Kuroshio intrusion current (KIC) and runoff from Taiwan rivers. The surface sediments with the highest pH (⩾7.5, and up to 8.3) were located in a fourth area, which corresponded to the western branch of the KIC where sediments have been intensively eroded by bottom currents. The pH of surface-sediment porewater was significantly linearly related to water depth, bottom-water temperature, and CaCO3 concentration (p < 0.05 for the whole sampling area). This study shows that the pH of surface-sediment porewater can be sensitive to characteristics of the overlying water column, and suggests that it will respond to global warming as changes in surface-ocean temperature and pH progressively reach deeper waters.

Shao C., Sui Y., Tang D. & Legendre L., in press. Spatial variability of surface-sediment porewater pH and related water-column characteristics in deep waters of the northern South China Sea. Progress in Oceanography. Article (subscription required).

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