Seasonal variability of carbonate chemistry and its controls in a subtropical estuary

Graphical abstract


  • The seasonal variability in CO2 system was evaluated in the Patos Lagoon Estuary (PLE) between 2017 and 2021.
  • Mixing between riverine freshwater and seawater drives the changes in the CO2 system in the PLE.
  • The nonthermal effects on seasonal changes in the pCO2 prevail over thermal effects.
  • The waters of PLE are susceptible to CaCO3 undersaturation conditions during winter and spring.
  • The CO2 system in the PLE swings between an ocean-dominated and riverine-dominated estuarine behavior.


We performed an unprecedented investigation of the seasonal variability in carbonate system parameters (total alkalinity – AT, total dissolved inorganic carbon – CT, pH, and partial pressure of carbon dioxide – pCO2) in the lower zone of the Patos Lagoon Estuary (PLE), the largest choked lagoon in the world. Sampling was conducted monthly from May 2017 to June 2021. AT and pH were measured during the study period, while other carbonate system parameters were estimated using CO2Sys software. The pH distribution reflected the average natural alkaline conditions throughout the year, with an average of 8.0 pH units. The surface waters in the lower zone of the PLE are generally characterized by a supersaturated calcium carbonate environment. However, a susceptibility to undersaturation conditions was observed during winter (calcite and aragonite) and spring (aragonite). Furthermore, the average surface water pCO2 was 394 μatm during the analyzed period, with the highest values recorded in winter and early spring. The predominant estuarine processes governing changes in the carbonate system in the PLE were the dilution and concentration of salts. These processes depend on the complex balance between freshwater outflows and oceanic inflows that change the surface salinity and produce favorable conditions for primary producer development and the input of continental carbon. However, the remineralization of organic matter and CO2 ingassing likely contribute to the deviations in the theoretical mixing line, causing the increased CT in the region. In addition, the nonthermal effects on seasonal changes in the pCO2 prevail over thermal effects, and the region presents an ocean-dominated (riverine-dominated) condition during summer and autumn (winter and spring). The novel results described here reveal the complexity and challenges that still exist to a better comprehension of how carbonate system parameters evolve temporally and spatially in the PLE, especially considering the climate- and anthropogenic-driven stressors. Finally, this study contributes to the understanding of carbonate system variability in coastal ecosystems and highlights the need for more intense and continuous biogeochemical monitoring of Southern Hemisphere estuaries.

Albuquerque C., Kerr R., Monteiro T., Orselli I. B. M., de Carvalho-Borges M., da Consolação de Oliveira Carvalho A., da Costa Machado E., Mansur J. K., da Silva Copertino M. & Borges Mendes C. R., 2022. Seasonal variability of carbonate chemistry and its controls in a subtropical estuary. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 276: 108020. doi: 10.1016/j.ecss.2022.108020. Article (subscription required).

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