The impact of intertidal areas on the carbonate system of the southern North Sea (update)

The coastal ocean is strongly affected by ocean acidification because of its shallow water depths, low volume, and the closeness to terrestrial dynamics. Earlier observations of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and total alkalinity (TA) in the southern part of the North Sea, a northwest European shelf sea, revealed lower acidification effects than expected. It has been assumed that anaerobic degradation and subsequent TA release in the adjacent back-barrier tidal areas (Wadden Sea) in summertime is responsible for this phenomenon. In this study the exchange rates of TA and DIC between the Wadden Sea tidal basins and the North Sea and the consequences for the carbonate system in the German Bight are estimated using a 3D ecosystem model. The aim of this study is to differentiate the various sources contributing to observed high summer TA in the southern North Sea. Measured TA and DIC in the Wadden Sea are considered as model boundary conditions. This procedure acknowledges the dynamic behaviour of the Wadden Sea as an area of effective production and decomposition of organic material. According to the modelling results, 39 Gmol TA yr−1 were exported from the Wadden Sea into the North Sea, which is less than a previous estimate but within a comparable range. The interannual variabilities in TA and DIC, mainly driven by hydrodynamic conditions, were examined for the years 2001–2009. Dynamics in the carbonate system are found to be related to specific weather conditions. The results suggest that the Wadden Sea is an important driver for the carbonate system in the southern North Sea. On average 41 % of TA inventory changes in the German Bight were caused by riverine input, 37 % by net transport from adjacent North Sea sectors, 16 % by Wadden Sea export, and 6 % were caused by internal net production of TA. The dominant role of river input for the TA inventory disappears when focusing on TA concentration changes due to the corresponding freshwater fluxes diluting the marine TA concentrations. The ratio of exported TA versus DIC reflects the dominant underlying biogeochemical processes in the Wadden Sea. Whereas aerobic degradation of organic matter played a key role in the North Frisian Wadden Sea during all seasons of the year, anaerobic degradation of organic matter dominated in the East Frisian Wadden Sea. Despite the scarcity of high-resolution field data, it is shown that anaerobic degradation in the Wadden Sea is one of the main contributors of elevated summer TA values in the southern North Sea.

Schwichtenberg F., Pätsch J., Böttcher M. E., Thomas H., Winde V. & Emeis K.-C., 2020. The impact of intertidal areas on the carbonate system of the southern North Sea. Biogeosciences 17: 4223–4245. Article.

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