Marked recent declines in boron in Baltic Sea cod otoliths – a bellwether of incipient acidification in a vast hypoxic system?

Ocean acidification is spreading globally as a result of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, but the Baltic Sea has until recently been thought to be relatively well-buffered by terrigenous inputs of alkalinity from its watershed. We discovered a 3- to 5-fold decline in boron (as B : Ca) in otoliths of eastern Baltic Sea cod (EBC) between the late 1990s and 2021. B : Ca is positively proportional to pH in carbonates, as B in the form of borate is taken up in the CaCO3 matrix. Examining a time series of EBC otoliths, we found varying levels of B : Ca since the 1980s, with the most recent years at an all-time low during this period. This trend correlates with declines in pH and dissolved oxygen, but not with changes in salinity. We examined possible physiological influences on B : Ca by including a collection of healthy Icelandic cod as an out-group. Icelandic cod otoliths showed strongly positive correlations of B : Ca with physiologically regulated P : Ca; this was not the case for EBC. Finally, B : Ca in EBC otoliths is anti-correlated to some extent with Mn : Mg, a proposed proxy for hypoxia exposure. This negative relationship is hypothesized to reflect the dual phenomena of hypoxia and acidification as a result of decomposition of large algal blooms. Taken together, the otolith biomarkers Mn : Mg and B : Ca suggest a general increase in both hypoxia and acidification within the Baltic intermediate and deep waters in the last decade reflected in cod otoliths.

Limburg K. E., Heimbrand Y. & Kuliński K., 2023. Marked recent declines in boron in Baltic Sea cod otoliths – a bellwether of incipient acidification in a vast hypoxic system? EGUsphere. Article.


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