Cyanobacteria net community production in the Baltic Sea as inferred from profiling pCO2 measurements

Organic matter production by cyanobacteria blooms is a major environmental concern for the Baltic Sea, as it promotes the spread of anoxic zones. Partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2) measurements carried out on Ships of Opportunity (SOOP) since 2003 have proven to be a powerful tool to resolve the carbon dynamics of the blooms in space and time. However, SOOP measurements lack the possibility to directly constrain depth-integrated net community production (NCP) in moles of carbon per surface area due to their restriction to the sea surface. This study tackles the knowledge gap through (1) providing an NCP best guess for an individual cyanobacteria bloom based on repeated profiling measurements of pCO2 and (2) establishing an algorithm to accurately reconstruct depth-integrated NCP from surface pCO2 observations in combination with modelled temperature profiles.

Goal (1) was achieved by deploying state-of-the-art sensor technology from a small-scale sailing vessel. The low-cost and flexible platform enabled observations covering an entire bloom event that occurred in July–August 2018 in the Eastern Gotland Sea. For the biogeochemical interpretation, recorded pCO2 profiles were converted to C∗T, which is the dissolved inorganic carbon concentration normalised to alkalinity. We found that the investigated bloom event was dominated by Nodularia and had many biogeochemical characteristics in common with blooms in previous years. In particular, it lasted for about 3 weeks, caused a C∗T drawdown of 90 µmol kg−1, and was accompanied by a sea surface temperature increase of 10 C. The novel finding of this study is the vertical extension of the C∗T drawdown up to the compensation depth located at around 12 m. Integration of the C∗T drawdown across this depth and correction for vertical fluxes leads to an NCP best guess of ∼1.2 mol m−2 over the productive period.

Addressing goal (2), we combined modelled hydrographical profiles with surface pCO2 observations recorded by SOOP Finnmaid within the study area. Introducing the temperature penetration depth (TPD) as a new parameter to integrate SOOP observations across depth, we achieve an NCP reconstruction that agrees to the best guess within 10 %, which is considerably better than the reconstruction based on a classical mixed-layer depth constraint.

Applying the TPD approach to almost 2 decades of surface pCO2 observations available for the Baltic Sea bears the potential to provide new insights into the control and long-term trends of cyanobacteria NCP. This understanding is key for an effective design and monitoring of conservation measures aiming at a Good Environmental Status of the Baltic Sea.

Müller J. D., Schneider B., Gräwe U., Fietzek P., Wallin M. B., Rutgersson A., Wasmund N., Krüger S., & Rehder G., 2021. Cyanobacteria net community production in the Baltic Sea as inferred from profiling pCO2 measurements. Biogeosciences 18: 4889–4917. Article.

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