Temporal variability and driving factors of the carbonate system in the Aransas Ship Channel, TX: A time-series study

Estuaries are complex systems with substantial heterogeneity in water chemistry, including carbonate chemistry parameters such as pH and partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2), because of the diversity of co-occurring biogeochemical processes. To better understand estuarine acidification and air-sea CO2 fluxes from estuaries, it is important to study baseline variability and driving factors of carbonate chemistry. Using both discrete bottle sample collection (2014–2020) and hourly sensor measurements (2016–2017), we explored temporal variability, from diel to interannual scales, in the carbonate system (specifically pH and pCO2) at the Aransas Ship Channel located in northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Using other co-located environmental sensors, we also explored the driving factors of that variability. Both sampling methods demonstrated significant seasonal variability at the location, with highest pH (lowest pCO2) in the winter and lowest pH (highest pCO2) in the summer. Significant diel variability was also evident from sensor data, but the time of day with elevated pCO2/depressed pH was not consistent across the entire monitoring period, sometimes reversing from what would be expected from a biological signal. Though seasonal and diel fluctuations were smaller than many other areas previously studied, carbonate chemistry parameters were among the most important environmental parameters to distinguish between time of day and between seasons. It is evident that temperature, biological activity, and tide level (despite the small tidal range) are all important controls on the system, with different controls dominating at different time scales. The results suggest that the controlling factors of the carbonate system may not be exerted equally on both pH and pCO2 on diel timescales, causing separation of their diel or tidal relationships during certain seasons. Despite known temporal variability on shorter timescales, discrete sampling was generally representative of the average carbonate system and average air-sea CO2 flux on a seasonal and annual basis based on comparison with sensor data.

McCutcheon M. R., Yao H., Staryk C. J. & Hu X., in review. Temporal variability and driving factors of the carbonate system in the Aransas Ship Channel, TX: A time-series study. Biogeosciences Discussions. Article.

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