Numerical modelling of physiological and ecological impacts of ocean acidification on coccolithophores

Highlights

• Intracellular biochemical-kinetic processes of coccolithophore were modelled.
• The model showed that the calcification is promoted under an acidified environment.
• Calcite remains at saturation levels in a coccolith even when it is below saturation.
• A coccolith can dissolve even in water where calcite saturation exceeds 1.
• The behavior of coccolithophores in the ecosystem were also simulated numerically.
• High CO2 concentration could lead to an increase of coccolithophores to diatoms.

Abstract

Ocean surface acidification due to increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration is currently attracting much attention. Coccolithophores distribute widely across the world’s oceans and represent a carbon sink containing about 100 million tonnes of carbon. For this reason, there is concern about dissolution of their shells, which are made of calcium carbonate, due to decreasing pH. In this study, intracellular calcification, photosynthesis, and mass transport through biomembranes of Emiliania huxleyi were modelled numerically for understanding biological response in calcifying organisms. Unknown parameters were optimised by a generic algorithm to match existing experimental results. The model showed that the production of calcium carbonate rather than its dissolution is promoted under an acidified environment. Calcite remains at saturation levels in a coccolith even when it is below saturation levels in the external seawater. Furthermore, a coccolith can dissolve even in water where calcite saturation exceeds 1, because the saturation may be below the threshold level locally around the cell membrane. The present model also showed that the different calcification rates of E. huxleyi with respect to rising CO2 concentrations reported in the literature are due to differences in experimental conditions; in particular, how the CO2 concentration is matched. Lastly, the model was able to reproduce differences in calcification rates among coccolithophore species. The above biochemical-kinetic model was then incorporated into an ecosystem model, and the behaviour of coccolithophores in the ecosystem and the influence of increases in CO2 concentration on water quality were simulated and validated by comparison with existing experimental results. The model also suggests that increased CO2 concentration could lead to an increase in the biomass ratio of coccolithophores to diatoms at high CO2 concentrations, particularly in oligotrophic environments, and to a consequent decrease in pH due to calcium dissolution.

Furukawa M., Sato T., Suzuki Y., Casareto B. E. & Hirabayashi S., 2018. Numerical modelling of physiological and ecological impacts of ocean acidification on coccolithophores. Journal of Marine Systems 182: 12-30. Article (subscription required).

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OA-ICC HIGHLIGHTS

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