Seasonal variability of the carbonate system and coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi at a Scottish Coastal Observatory monitoring site


• There is a “knowledge gap” on carbonate chemistry in inshore waters.
• Stonehaven coastal carbonate system shows a strong variability at short-time and year-to-year scales.
• Occurrence of E. huxleyi morphotypes shows a repeated seasonal pattern.
E. huxleyi in situ calcification seems not to be affected by carbonate chemistry.
• Seasonality in E. huxleyi morphotypes should be considered when interpreting sporadic cruises data.


Lack of information about carbonate chemistry in inshore waters is a ‘knowledge gap’ in assessing the impacts of changing carbonate chemistry on the marine environment. Assessing the response of calcifying phytoplankton to this changing carbonate chemistry requires a greater understanding of temporal variation. This study provides a description of the variability of carbonate parameters at a monitoring site in the eastern coast of Scotland. Four-years of monthly data were analysed to assess the diversity, abundance and morphometrics of coccolithophores in relation to carbonate chemistry and environmental variables. The seasonality in carbonate parameters reflected the seasonal cycle in phytoplankton activity, with higher total alkalinity concentrations and pH and lower dissolved inorganic carbon concentrations during the growing season. The dominant coccolithophore at the site was Emiliania huxleyi which showed a clear seasonal pattern, being more abundant in mid-summer when warmer and nutrient-depleted conditions restricted the annual diatom bloom. This study revealed the presence of three morphotypes of E. huxleyi, type A, type A overcalcified (type AO) and type B, which were seasonally distributed throughout the year. The less calcified form was mainly observed in spring while heavily calcified morphotypes overlapped during summer. Autumn and winter months were dominated by the most calcified form (type AO). These results indicate that the seasonal pattern of E. huxleyi morphotypes was not related to the carbonate concentration at the site. This study reflects the strong interannual variability in carbonate chemistry and the complexity associated with coccolithophore calcification, and highlights the need of long-term data to understand the potential impact of ocean acidification on calcifying phytoplankton.

León P., Walsham P., Bresnan E., Hartman S. E., Hughes S., Mackenzie K., Webster L., in press. Seasonal variability of the carbonate system and coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi at a Scottish Coastal Observatory monitoring site. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. Article (subscription required).

  • Reset


OA-ICC Highlights