Warming and ocean acidification may decrease estuarine dissolved organic carbon export to the ocean

Estuaries make a disproportionately large contribution of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to the global carbon cycle, but it is unknown how this will change under a future climate. As such, the response of DOC fluxes from microbially dominated unvegetated sediments to individual and combined future climate stressors of warming (from Δ−3 °C to Δ+5 °C on ambient mean temperatures) and ocean acidification (OA, ~2 times the current partial pressure of CO2, pCO2) was investigated ex situ. Warming alone increased sediment heterotrophy, resulting in a proportional increase in sediment DOC uptake, with sediments becoming net sinks of DOC (3.5 to 8.8 mmol-C m−2 d−1) at warmer temperatures (Δ+3 °C and Δ+5 °C, respectively). This temperature response changed under OA conditions, with sediments becoming more autotrophic and a greater sink of DOC (1 to 4 times greater than under current-pCO2). This response was attributed to the stimulation of heterotrophic bacteria with the autochthonous production of labile organic matter by microphytobenthos. Extrapolating these results to the global area of unvegetated subtidal estuarine sediments, the future climate of warming (Δ+3 °C) and OA may decrease the estuarine export of DOC by ~80 % (~150 Tg-C yr−1) and have a disproportionately large impact on the global DOC budget.

Simone M. N., Schulz K. G., Oakes J. M. & Eyre B. D., 2020. Warming and ocean acidification may decrease estuarine dissolved organic carbon export to the ocean. Biogeosciences Discussions. doi: 10.5194/bg-2020-335. Article.

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