Chesapeake Bay acidification buffered by spatially decoupled carbonate mineral cycling

Uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere has acidified the ocean and threatened the health of marine organisms and their ecosystems. In coastal waters, acidification is often enhanced by CO2 and acids produced under high rates of biological respiration. However, less is known about buffering processes that counter coastal acidification in eutrophic and seasonally hypoxic water bodies, such as the Chesapeake Bay. Here, we use carbonate chemistry, mineralogical analyses and geochemical modelling to demonstrate the occurrence of a bay-wide pH-buffering mechanism resulting from spatially decoupled calcium carbonate mineral cycling. In summer, high rates of photosynthesis by dense submerged aquatic vegetation at the head of the bay and in shallow, nearshore areas generate high pH, an elevated carbonate mineral saturation state and net alkalinity uptake. Calcium carbonate particles produced under these conditions are subsequently transported downstream into corrosive subsurface waters, where their dissolution buffers pH decreases caused by aerobic respiration and anthropogenic CO2. Because this pH-buffering mechanism would be strengthened by further nutrient load reductions and associated submerged aquatic vegetation recovery, our findings suggest that the reduction of nutrient inputs into coastal waters will not only reduce eutrophication and hypoxia, but also alleviate the severity of coastal ocean acidification.

Su J., Cai W-J., Brodeur J., Chen B., Hussain N., Yao Y., Ni C., Testa J. M., Li M., Xie X., Ni W., Scaboo K. M., Xu Y., Cornwell J., Gurbisz C., Owens M. S., Waldbusser G. G., Dai M. & Kemp W. M., in press. Chesapeake Bay acidification buffered by spatially decoupled carbonate mineral cycling. Nature Geoscience. Article (subscription required).

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