Benthic respiration in hypoxic waters enhances bottom water acidification in the northern Gulf of Mexico

It is known that surface water eutrophication enhances bottom water ocean acidification via respiration in coastal oceans. However, the role of benthic processes in influencing bottom water acidification has not been sufficiently explored. We examined this issue by analyzing a 10‐year summer carbonate chemistry dataset in bottom water together with recent benthic flux measurements and literature benthic flux data in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The difference between the observed and estimated pH (Ω) values calculated from anthropogenic CO2 increase and water column aerobic respiration were defined as ΔpH (ΔΩ). We found that ΔpH and ΔΩ values in hypoxic condition were −0.03 ± 0.04 (mean ± standard deviation) and −0.15 ± 0.39, respectively. Both ΔpH and ΔΩ values in hypoxic conditions were significantly lower than zero (p < 0.05). The net results of anaerobic respiration, oxidation of reduced chemcials, burial of iron sulfide minerals, and possible CaCO3 dissolution may have led to an alkalinity to DIC production ratio of less than 1 in porewater. This caused the ratio of alkalinity to dissolved inorganic carbon fluxes from sediment to bottom water to be less than 1, which led to additional bottom water acidification. Our analysis and model simulations demonstrate that severe hypoxic and anoxic conditions, which correspond to less water movement, favor the accumulation of benthic respiration products, leading to additional pH and Ω reductions. The findings on sediment processes contributing to acidification in bottom waters provide new insights into the sensitivity of coastal ocean acidification to low‐oxygen conditions under current and future climates and anthropogenic nutrient loading scenarios.

Wang H.Lehrter J.Maiti K.Fennel K.Laurent A.Rabalais N., Hussain N., Li Q., Chen B., Scaboo K. M. & Cai W.-J., 2020. Benthic respiration in hypoxic waters enhances bottom water acidification in the northern Gulf of MexicoJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 125 (10): e2020JC016152. doi: 10.1029/2020JC016152. Article (subscription required).

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