Assessing the role of natural kelp forests in modifying seawater chemistry

Climate change is causing widespread impacts on seawater pH through ocean acidification (OA). Kelp forests, in some locations can buffer the effects of OA through photosynthesis. However, the factors influencing this variation remain poorly understood. To address this gap, we conducted a literature review and field deployments of pH and dissolved oxygen (DO) loggers within four habitats: intact kelp forest, moderate kelp cover, sparse kelp cover and barrens at one site in Port Phillip Bay, a wind-wave dominated coastal embayment in Victoria, Australia. Additionally, a wave logger was placed directly in front of the intact kelp forest and barrens habitats. Most studies reported that kelp increased seawater pH and DO during the day, compared to controls without kelp. This effect was more pronounced in densely populated forests, particularly in shallow, sheltered conditions. Our field study was broadly consistent with these observations, with intact kelp habitat having higher seawater pH than habitats with less kelp or barrens and higher seawater DO compared to barrens, particularly in the afternoon and during calmer wave conditions. Although kelp forests can provide local refuges to biota from OA, the benefits are variable through time and may be reduced by declines in kelp density and increased wave exposure.

Strain E. M. A., Swearer S. E., Ambler I., Morris R. L. & Nickols K. J., 2023. Assessing the role of natural kelp forests in modifying seawater chemistry. Research Square. Article.

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