Hydrochemical properties and chemocline of the Sansha Yongle Blue Hole in the South China Sea

Highlights

• Distinct water layers involve different redox/nitrification-denitrification process.
• A 30-m thick chemocline separates the upper oxic layer and the deep anoxic layer.
• The blue hole is a net source of N2O and CH4 to the atmosphere.

Abstract

Blue holes can provide valuable information regarding paleoclimate, climate change, karst processes, marine ecology, and carbonate geochemistry. The Sansha Yongle Blue Hole, located on Yongle Atoll in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, is the deepest blue hole in the world. A comprehensive investigation of the blue hole was conducted to determine the hydrochemical properties and associated redox processes active in the water column. Results indicate the presence of two thermoclines, one at 13–20 m and a second at 70–150 m, dividing the water column into five stratified water layers. Based on redox state, the water column can be divided into three layers: an oxic layer in the top 70 m, a chemocline at 70–100 m, which acts as a redox boundary, and an anoxic deep layer. In the oxic layer, Photosynthesis in the oxic layer above the seasonal thermocline, results in nutrient uptake, transformation of inorganic carbon to organic carbon in the top mixed layer above the seasonal thermocline; Below the seasonal thermocline, organic matter degradation and nitrification, which are the main biological process at depths around 30 m and 50–70 m, lead to the accumulation of nitrate and a decrease in dissolved oxygen/pH; whereas photosynthesis is dominant at depths of 30–50 m, leading to increase in dissolved oxygen and pH. Within the chemocline, organic matter decays via a variety of reactions (e.g. aerobic mineralization, denitrification and anammox), leading to sharp decreases in the oxidizing chemical species (e.g., dissolved oxygen and nitrate) and corresponding increases in the reduced species (e.g., ammonium and sulfide). Within this layer, about 60% of the nitrogen is lost and chemoautotrophic/photoautotrophic production may contribute significantly to particulate organic carbon. Within the deep anoxic layer, sulfate reduction and degradation of organic matter result in accumulations of sulfide, dissolved inorganic carbon, and nutrients.

 

Xie L., Wang B., Pu X., Xin M., He P., Li C., Wei Q., Zhang X. & Li T., in press. Hydrochemical properties and chemocline of the Sansha Yongle Blue Hole in the South China Sea. Science of the Total Environment. Article (subscription required).

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