Natural ocean acidification at Papagayo upwelling system (North Pacific Costa Rica): implications for reef development

Numerous experiments have shown that ocean acidification impedes coral calcification, but knowledge about in situ reef ecosystem response to ocean acidification is still scarce. Bahía Culebra, situated at the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is a location naturally exposed to acidic conditions due to the Papagayo seasonal upwelling. We measured pH and pCO2 in situ during two non-upwelling seasons (June 2012, May–June 2013), with a high temporal resolution of every 15 and 30 min, respectively, using two Submersible Autonomous Moored Instruments (SAMI-pH, SAMI-CO2). These results were compared with published data from the upwelling season 2009. Findings revealed that the carbonate system in Bahía Culebra shows a high temporal variability. Incoming offshore waters drive inter- and intra-seasonal changes. Lowest pH (7.8) and highest pCO2 (658.3 µatm) values measured during a cold-water intrusion event in the non-upwelling season were similar to those minimum values reported from upwelling season (pH = 7.8, pCO2 = 643.5 µatm), unveiling that natural acidification occurs sporadically also in non-upwelling season. This affects the interaction of photosynthesis, respiration, calcification, and carbonate dissolution and the resulting diel cycle of pH and pCO2 in the reefs of Bahía Culebra. During non-upwelling season, the aragonite saturation state (Ωa) rises to values of > 3.3 and enhances calcification. Aragonite saturation state values during upwelling season falls below 2.5, hampering calcification and coral growth. Low reef accretion in Bahía Culebra indicates high erosion rates and that these reefs grow on the verge of their ecological tolerance. The Ωa threshold values for coral growth, derived from the correlation between Ωa and coral linear extension rates, suggest that future ocean acidification will threaten reefs in Bahía Culebra. These data contribute to build a better understanding of the carbonate system dynamics and coral reefs key response (e.g. coral growth) to natural low-pH conditions, in upwelling areas in the Eastern Tropical Pacific and beyond.

Sánchez-Noguera C., Stuhldreier I., Cortés J., Jiménez C., Morales Á., Wild C. & Rixen T., 2017. Natural ocean acidification at Papagayo upwelling system (North Pacific Costa Rica): implications for reef development. Biogeosciences Discussions. doi: 10.5194/bg-2017-459. Article.

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