Effects of eutrophication and benthic respiration on water column carbonate chemistry in a traditional hypoxic zone in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

A simple river-ocean mixing approach has been frequently used to examine estuarine and coastal carbonate system speciation. Coastal areas receiving significant nutrient inputs, however, can have the carbonate chemistry greatly deviated from this mixing-only scheme because of disparate, but spatially coupled biogeochemical processes, i.e., intense primary production in surface waters and elevated respiration in bottom waters; the latter often leads to bottom-water hypoxia (dissolved oxygen or DO concentration < 2 mg L− 1) and acidification. As a result of land use change, riverine TA input is known to enhance coastal water buffer capacity, although this effect in eutrophic coastal water has not been systematically studied. The physical disturbances of shallow coastal waters by storms can disrupt bottom hypoxia through overturning the water column. This overturn has been proposed to exacerbate bottom water acidification, because of the different exchange rates of oxygen and CO2, which could lead to a ‘reset’ of oxygen concentration but little change in the total dissolved inorganic carbon concentration. We used data from the summer 2010 hypoxia cruise in the northern Gulf of Mexico shelf, during which a tropical depression (Bonnie) perturbed the bottom water. Carbonate buffer capacity in both surface and subsurface waters along the salinity gradient suggested that eutrophication-induced surface production and bottom respiration far outweighed the influence of river TA variation and temperature changes in determining carbonate changes on centennial time scales. We propose, based on literature-based CO2 flux reported in this area, that the benthic (both aerobic and anaerobic) respiration-produced CO2 flux (with a lesser flux of alkalinity), instead of bottom water reset by storms, could be responsible for further acidifying hypoxic bottom water in addition to water column aerobic respiration.

Hu X., Li Q., Huang W.-J., Chen B., Cai W.-J., Rabalais N. N. & Turner R. E., in press. Effects of eutrophication and benthic respiration on water column carbonate chemistry in a traditional hypoxic zone in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Marine Chemistry. Article (subscription required).

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