Coastal ocean acidification: dynamics and potential to affect marine mollusks

Coastal marine ecosystems are both ecologically and economically productive, and as human coastal populations expand, these critical habitats have become subject to a suite of anthropogenic stressors. During the past century, the progressive rise in levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) entering world oceans has decreased ocean pH and caused ocean acidification. An additional and often overlooked cause of acidification in coastal zones is the production of CO2 via microbial degradation of organic matter. Nutrient loading in coastal ecosystems facilitates enhanced algal productivity and the subsequent decomposition of this algal biomass reduces oxygen levels and can promote hypoxia. The precise temporal and spatial dynamics of acidification and hypoxia as well as their potential effects on resource bivalves are not well described in most coastal waters. Here, to evaluate the status of aquatic acidification in coastal systems, I examine the seasonal, diel, and high-resolution spatiotemporal dynamics of carbonate chemistry and dissolved oxygen (DO) over a six year period in multiple northeast US estuaries and across multiple coastal habitats that host keystone marine species while concurrently quantifying the growth and survival of multiple early life stage suspension feeding bivalves. To assess the potential for acidification in eutrophic estuaries, the levels of DO, pH, the partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2), and the saturation state of aragonite (ΩAr) were iv horizontally and vertically assessed during the onset, peak, and demise of low oxygen conditions in systems across the northeast US including Narragansett Bay (RI), Long Island Sound (CTNY), Jamaica Bay (NY), and Hempstead Bay (NY). Hypoxic waters and/or regions in close proximity to sewage discharge had extremely high levels of pCO2, (> 3,000 µatm), acidic pH (< 7.0), and were undersaturated with respect to aragonite (ΩAr < 1). The close spatial and temporal correspondence between DO and pH and the occurrence of extremes in these conditions in regions with the most intense nutrient loading indicated that they were driven primarily by enhanced microbial respiration relative to physical exchange processes. Next, I quantified the temporal and spatial dynamics of DO, carbonate chemistry, and net ecosystem metabolism (NEM) from spring through fall in multiple, distinct, temperate estuarine habitats: seagrass meadows, salt marshes, an open water estuary, and a shallow water habitat dominated by benthic macroalgae. All habitats displayed clear diurnal patterns of pH and DO, with minimums observed during early morning and maximums observed in the afternoon where diel ranges in pH and DO varied by site. NEM across habitats ranged from net autotrophic (macroalgae and seagrass) to metabolically balanced (open water) and net heterotrophic (salt marsh). Each habitat examined exhibited distinct buffering capacities that varied seasonally and were modulated by adjacent biological activity and variations in total alkalinity (TA) and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). I utilized continuous monitoring devices to characterize the diurnal dynamics of DO and carbonate chemistry from spring through fall across two, temperate eutrophic estuaries, western Long Island Sound and Jamaica Bay, NY. Vertical dynamics were resolved using an underway towing profiler and an automated stationary profiling unit. During the study, high rates of respiration in surface and bottom waters (> -0.2 mg O2 L -1 h -1 ) were observed where ephemeral surface water algal blooms caused brief periods of basification and supersaturation of DO that v were succeeded by periods of acidification and hypoxia. Diurnal vertical profiles demonstrated that oxic surface waters saturated with respect to calcium carbonate (aragonite) during the day transitioned to being unsaturated and hypoxic at night. Evidence is presented that, beyond respiration, nitrification of surface water strongly influenced by sewage discharge and oxidation processes in sediments can also contribute to acidification in these estuaries. Finally, the growth and survival of three bivalve species (Argopecten irradians, Crassostrea virginica, Mytilus edulis) were examined in an in-situ CO2 enrichment system deployed in a seagrass meadow and an open water estuary, and across a natural eutrophication gradient in Jamaica Bay, NY. In the seagrass meadow, the growth and survival of C. virginica and A. irradians significantly declined during the late summer in response to CO2 gas injection. During the open water CO2 enrichment experiment, all three species of bivalves exhibited depressed growth within the acidified chambers with no significant difference in mortality between treatments. In Jamaica Bay, dense phytoplankton blooms in the early summer decreased CO2 and increased DO creating spatial refuges for bivalves where growth rates were enhanced, but by the late summer, trends reversed as bivalve growth was depressed at these same locations due to the onset of acidification and hypoxia. Collectively, this dissertation has identified coastal ocean acidification as a symptom of eutrophication that can threaten marine bivalve populations.

Wallace, R. B., 2020. Coastal ocean acidification: dynamics and potential to affect marine mollusks. PhD thesis, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 200 p. Thesis.

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