The northern European shelf as an increasing net sink for CO2 (update)

We developed a simple method to refine existing open-ocean maps and extend them towards different coastal seas. Using a multi-linear regression we produced monthly maps of surface ocean fCO2 in the northern European coastal seas (the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Norwegian Coast and the Barents Sea) covering a time period from 1998 to 2016. A comparison with gridded Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT) v5 data revealed mean biases and standard deviations of 0 ± 26 µatm in the North Sea, 0 ± 16 µatm along the Norwegian Coast, 0 ± 19 µatm in the Barents Sea and 2 ± 42 µatm in the Baltic Sea. We used these maps to investigate trends in fCO2, pH and air–sea CO2 flux. The surface ocean fCO2 trends are smaller than the atmospheric trend in most of the studied regions. The only exception to this is the western part of the North Sea, where sea surface fCO2 increases by 2 µatm yr−1, which is similar to the atmospheric trend. The Baltic Sea does not show a significant trend. Here, the variability was much larger than the expected trends. Consistently, the pH trends were smaller than expected for an increase in fCO2 in pace with the rise of atmospheric CO2 levels. The calculated air–sea CO2 fluxes revealed that most regions were net sinks for CO2. Only the southern North Sea and the Baltic Sea emitted CO2 to the atmosphere. Especially in the northern regions the sink strength increased during the studied period.

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NOAA funds VIMS to study impact of ocean acidification on oysters

Team will assess vulnerability of aquaculture and restoration efforts in Chesapeake Bay


The excess carbon dioxide responsible for global warming also increases the acidity of seawater, challenging the growth and survival of oysters and other shellfish. A team led by researchers at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science is now helping oyster growers and restoration specialists better manage their future responses to acidification in the Chesapeake Bay.

The team, funded by the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program, is led by VIMS researchers Marjy Friedrichs and Emily Rivest, along with David Wrathall of Oregon State University. Other team members include Mark Brush, Pierre St-Laurent, and Karen Hudson of VIMS, Aaron Bever of Anchor QEA, and Bruce Vogt of NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office. The team calls their project STAR, for Shellfish Thresholds and Aquaculture Resilience.

“Coastal acidification and its associated co-stressors present a serious and credible threat to the success of both oyster aquaculture and oyster restoration in the Bay,” says Friedrichs. The co-stressors include nutrient pollution, warmer Bay waters, and pulses of freshwater from rainstorms made more intense by global atmospheric changes. Previous research has shown these factors can intensify the negative impacts caused by ocean acidification alone.

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Behind the paper: ocean acidification, plankton, and the biological carbon pump

How marine ecosystems will be affected by ocean acidification is still largely unknown. Large-scale field experiments revealed the complex and variable responses of plankton communities to increasing CO2, and how this could alter biogeochemical cycling and the oceanic carbon sink in the future.

The paper in Nature Climate Change is available here: Changing carbon-to-nitrogen ratios of organic-matter export under ocean acidification

By Tim Boxhammer and Jan Taucher

In 2010, when we first set out for a field study to examine how ocean acidification would affect marine plankton and their role in the cycling of carbon and nitrogen in the ocean, we did not have any clue about the long road ahead of us. For our research over the coming years, we collected data in marine ecosystems ranging from the high Artic over remote Scandinavian fjords, to the vast subtropical gyres. 
These different environments did not just mean a change in marine ecosystems, but also affected our working conditions in many ways.

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The Olympic Coast as a sentinel – tribal communities at the forefront of ocean change (video)

Indigenous people have depended on Olympic Coast marine species for their livelihoods, food security and cultural practices for thousands of years. Today, these species—and the tribal communities that depend on them—are at risk from ocean acidification. Washington Sea Grant, in partnership with the Olympic Coast Treaty Tribes, federal and academic scientists and coastal managers, is working to understand and plan for the impacts of ocean change to tribal community well-being.

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Princeton project expands to create a worldwide fleet of robotic floats to monitor ocean health

On October 29, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a $53 million grant — shared among a consortium of the country’s top ocean research institutions — to build a global network of chemical and biological sensors that will monitor ocean health.

Scientists at Princeton University, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), University of Washington, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will use this grant to build and deploy 500 robotic ocean monitoring floats around the globe. The new program builds on the successful Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) project based at Princeton that has deployed similar floats in the ocean around Antarctica, proving their usefulness as year-round reporters of ocean chemistry and biological activity.

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Reaching consensus on assessments of ocean acidification trends

Scientists are working to establish a common methodology for evaluating rates of change in—and the various mechanisms that affect—acidification across ocean environments.

Media coverage concerning carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into Earth’s atmosphere most often focuses on how these emissions affect climate and weather patterns. However, atmospheric CO2 is also the primary driver for ocean acidification, because the products of atmospheric CO2 dissolving into seawater reduce seawater’s pH and its concentration of carbonate ions. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of the ocean has increased by over 30%.

Some organisms in the ocean may struggle to adapt to increasingly acidified conditions, and even resilient life-forms may have a harder time finding food. Higher CO2 levels in ocean water also make it difficult for shellfish to build their shells and corals to form their reefs, both of which are made of carbonate compounds.Ocean acidification affects the overall health of marine ecosystems as well as societal concerns about food security.Ocean acidification, which affects the overall health of marine ecosystems as well as societal concerns about food security, has emerged as a major concern for decision-makers on local, regional, and global scales. Indeed, ocean acidification is now a headline climate indicator for the World Meteorological Organization.

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Autonomous measurement of seawater total alkalinity as an enhancement of ocean carbon observations: from performance characterization to long-term field deployment

Since around the mid of the 18th century, the global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has significantly increased due to anthropogenic activities. For 2018, around 11.5 GtC yr−1 were emitted by fossil fuel combustion and cement production, and land use changes. A sink for the atmospheric CO2 is the ocean, which has taken up around 2.6 GtC yr−1 in 2018. The relative good understanding of the current global mean oceanic uptake of anthropogenic CO2 is contrasted by a lack of knowledge how the natural carbon cycle will respond regionally to changes introduced by anthropogenic CO2 emissions, like global warming, ocean acidification or ocean deoxygenation. In view of the central role of the oceanic CO2 sink and its vulnerability to these changes, extensive ocean carbon observations are necessary. Over several years, the Ships of Opportunity (SOOP) network provides high-quality CO2 partial pressure (p(CO2)) data of the surface ocean, and, therefore, forms the backbone of the global observation system for the oceanic CO2 sink. However, to get full insight into the marine CO2 system, at least two of the four measurable carbonate variables are required, which are p(CO2), total alkalinity (AT), dissolved inorganic carbon (CT) and pH. The so far common workaround is the prediction of AT by using established temperature-salinity based parameterizations. However, compared with direct measurements, this procedure leads to higher uncertainties and spatiotemporal biases. Therefore, autonomous SOOP-based AT measurements are of great interest and, in the end, should enhance ocean carbon observations. In order to achieve this enhancement, this thesis goals to provide an example of a successful implementation of a novel autonomous analyzer for seawater AT, the CONTROS HydroFIA TA (-4H-JENA engineering GmbH, Germany), on a Carbon-SOOP station operating in the subpolar North Atlantic (together with fundamental guidelines and recommendations leading to high-quality AT data).

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Autonomous observation of seasonal carbonate chemistry dynamics in the Mid‐Atlantic Bight

Ocean acidification alters the oceanic carbonate system, increasing potential for ecological, economic, and cultural losses. Historically, productive coastal oceans lack vertically‐resolved high‐resolution carbonate system measurements on timescales relevant to organism ecology and life history. The recent development of a deep ISFET‐based pH sensor system integrated into a Slocum glider has provided a platform for achieving high‐resolution carbonate system profiles. From May 2018 to November 2019, seasonal deployments of the pH glider were conducted in the central Mid‐Atlantic Bight. Simultaneous measurements from the glider’s pH and salinity sensors enabled the derivation of total alkalinity and calculation of other carbonate system parameters including aragonite saturation state. Carbonate system parameters were then mapped against other variables, such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll, over space and time. The seasonal dynamics of carbonate chemistry presented here provide a baseline to begin identifying drivers of acidification in this vital economic zone.

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High light alongside elevated PCO2 alleviates thermal depression of photosynthesis in a hard coral (Pocillopora acuta)

The absorbtion of human-emitted CO2 by the oceans (elevated PCO2) is projected to alter the physiological performance of coral reef organisms by perturbing seawater chemistry (i.e. ocean acidification). Simultaneously, greenhouse gas emissions are driving ocean warming and changes in irradiance (through turbidity and cloud cover), which have the potential to influence the effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs. Here, we explored whether physiological impacts of elevated PCO2 on a coral–algal symbiosis (Pocillopora acuta–Symbiodiniaceae) are mediated by light and/or temperature levels. In a 39 day experiment, elevated PCO2 (962 versus 431 µatm PCO2) had an interactive effect with midday light availability (400 versus 800 µmol photons m−2 s−1) and temperature (25 versus 29°C) on areal gross and net photosynthesis, for which a decline at 29°C was ameliorated under simultaneous high-PCO2 and high-light conditions. Light-enhanced dark respiration increased under elevated PCO2 and/or elevated temperature. Symbiont to host cell ratio and chlorophyll a per symbiont increased at elevated temperature, whilst symbiont areal density decreased. The ability of moderately strong light in the presence of elevated PCO2 to alleviate the temperature-induced decrease in photosynthesis suggests that higher substrate availability facilitates a greater ability for photochemical quenching, partially offsetting the impacts of high temperature on the photosynthetic apparatus. Future environmental changes that result in moderate increases in light levels could therefore assist the P. acuta holobiont to cope with the ‘one–two punch’ of rising temperatures in the presence of an acidifying ocean.

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Current and future trophic interactions in tropical shallow-reef lagoon habitats

Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) sediments are the dominant form of CaCO3 on coral reefs accumulating in lagoon and inter-reefal areas. Owing to their mineralogy and a range of physical parameters, tropical CaCO3 sediments are predicted to be more sensitive to dissolution driven by ocean acidification than the skeleton of living reef organisms. How this scales up to impact infaunal organisms, which are an important food source for higher trophic levels, and thereby ecosystem functioning, is not well explored. We combined seasonal field surveys in a shallow-reef lagoon ecosystem on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, with stable isotope analyses and a tank-based experiment to examine the potential top-down influence of the deposit-feeding sea cucumber, Stichopus herrmanni, on this infaunal community under current and future ocean pH. Densities of surface-sediment meiofauna were lowest in winter and spring, with harpacticoid copepods (38%) and nematodes (27%) the dominant taxa. Stable isotope analyses showed that S. herrmanni had a top-down influence on meiofauna and microphytes with a distinct δ13C and δ15N trophic position that was homogenous across seasons and locations. Tanks that mimicked sandy shallow-reef lagoon habitats were used to examine the effects of ocean acidification (elevated pCO2) on this trophic interaction. We used outdoor control (sediment only) and experimental (sediment plus S. herrmanni) tanks maintained at present-day and near-future pCO2 (+ 570 µatm) for 24 days, which fluctuated with the diel pCO2 cycle. In sediment-only tanks, copepods were > twofold more abundant at elevated pCO2, with no negative effects documented for any meiofauna group. When included in the community, top-down control by S. herrmanni counteracted the positive effects of low pH on meiofaunal abundance. We highlight a novel perspective in coral reef trophodynamics between surface-sediment meiofauna and deposit-feeding sea cucumbers, and posit that community shifts may occur in shallow-reef lagoon habitats in a future ocean with implications for the functioning of coral reefs from the bottom up.

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The future is now: long-term research shows ocean acidification ramping up on the Reef

A new study has shown ocean acidification is no longer a sombre forecast for the Great Barrier Reef but a present-day reality

Newswise — Ocean acidification is no longer a sombre forecast for the Great Barrier Reef but a present-day reality, a new study reveals.

The study, published in the international Journal Scientific Reports, shows carbon dioxide (CO2) and ocean acidification are rapidly increasing on the Reef. Seawater CO2 has risen 6 per cent over the past 10 years and matches the rate of CO2 increases in the atmosphere, confirming the influence of atmospheric CO2 on seawater CO2 levels.

“People talk about ocean acidification in terms of 50 years’ time, but for the first time our study shows how fast ocean acidification is already happening on the Reef,” said Dr Katharina Fabricius, lead author and Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

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Progressive seawater acidification on the Great Barrier Reef continental shelf

Coral reefs are highly sensitive to ocean acidification due to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. We present 10 years of data (2009–2019) on the long-term trends and sources of variation in the carbon chemistry from two fixed stations in the Australian Great Barrier Reef. Data from the subtropical mid-shelf GBRWIS comprised 3-h instrument records, and those from the tropical coastal NRSYON were monthly seawater samples. Both stations recorded significant variation in seawater CO2 fugacity (fCO2), attributable to seasonal, daytime, temperature and salinity fluctuations. Superimposed over this variation, fCO2 progressively increased by > 2.0 ± 0.3 µatm year−1 at both stations. Seawater temperature and salinity also increased throughout the decade, whereas seawater pH and the saturation state of aragonite declined. The decadal upward fCO2 trend remained significant in temperature- and salinity-normalised data. Indeed, annual fCO2 minima are now higher than estimated fCO2 maxima in the early 1960s, with mean fCO2 now ~ 28% higher than 60 years ago. Our data indicate that carbonate dissolution from the seafloor is currently unable to buffer the Great Barrier Reef against ocean acidification. This is of great concern for the thousands of coral reefs and other diverse marine ecosystems located in this vast continental shelf system.

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The impacts of ocean acidification on marine food quality and its potential food chain consequences

Dissolution of anthropogenic CO2 into the oceans results in ocean acidification (OA), altering marine chemistry with consequences for primary, secondary, and tertiary food web producers. Here we examine how OA could affect the food quality of primary producers and subsequent trophic transfer to second and tertiary producers. Changes in food quality induced by OA are often related to secondary metabolites in primary producers, such as enriched phenolics in microalgae and iodine in brown algae. These biomolecules can then be transferred to secondary producers, potentially affecting seafood quality and other marine ecosystem services. Furthermore, shifts in dominant functional groups of primary producers under the influence of OA would also impact higher trophic levels through food web interactions. It is challenging to understand how these complex food chain effects of OA may be expressed under the influence of fluctuating environments or multiple drivers, and how these effects can be scaled up through marine food webs to humans.

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Declines in shellfish species on rocky seashores match climate-driven changes

Two decades of data document a dwindling of mussels, barnacles and snails

The waters of the Gulf of Maine are warming faster than oceans almost anywhere on Earth. As the level of carbon dioxide rises in the atmosphere, it’s absorbed by the sea, causing pH levels to fall. Ocean acidification makes it difficult for shellfish to thicken their shells –their primary defense against predators.

In a U.S. National Science Foundation-funded study published in Communications Biology, researchers Peter Petraitis of the University of Pennsylvania and Steve Dudgeon of California State University, Northridge, show that the changing climate is taking a toll on Maine’s sea life.

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SDG 14.3 data portal launched

The International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE; WDS Network Member), international ocean acidification experts (including data managers), and the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network have supported the development of the indicator methodology tool, SDG 14.3.1 Data Portal, which is now freely available.

This SDG 14.3.1 Data Portal is a tool for the submission, collection, validation, storage, and sharing of ocean acidification data and metadata submitted towards the Sustainable Development Goal 14.3.1 Indicator: Average marine acidity (pH) measured at agreed suite of representative sampling stations.

The SDG Indicator 14.3.1 Methodology provides the necessary guidance on how to conduct ocean acidification observation, what to measure and how, providing best practice, and methods approved by the scientific ocean acidification community. It further offers support on how to and what types of datasets to submit to the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, to ensure the production of quality-controlled global and possibly regional products.

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Communicating OA science to policy makers (webinar recording)

On October 20 and 21, the OA Alliance and The Ocean Foundation co- hosted a Communications Workshop for OA Scientists.

This virtual workshop provided an overview of best practices in communicating OA science to decision and policy makers and other stakeholders, drawing upon lessons learned and experiences from our national and subnational government members.  It also described how governments are increasingly tackling ocean acidification through legislation, climate action strategies and other international frameworks and specifically—exploring how scientists and in-region stakeholders can most effectively contribute to those processes.

This workshop was meant for scientists working on ocean acidification who are interested in learning how to interact with policymakers.

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The uncertain future of the oceans

Study analyzes the reaction of plankton communities to increased carbon dioxide

26 October 2020 / Kiel. Marine food webs and biogeochemical cycles react very sensitively to the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) – but the effects are far more complex than previously thought. This is shown in a study published by a team of researchers from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in the journal Nature Climate Change. Data were combined from five large-scale field experiments, which investigated how the carbon cycle within plankton communities reacts to the increase of CO2.

The ocean plays a key role in the current climate change, as it absorbs a considerable part of the atmospheric carbon dioxide emitted by mankind. On the one hand, this slows down the heating of the climate, and on the other hand, the dissolution of CO2 in seawater leads to acidification of the oceans. This has far-reaching consequences for many marine organisms and thus also for the oceanic carbon cycle. One of the most important mechanisms in this cycle, is called the biological carbon pump. Part of the biomass that phytoplankton forms in the surface ocean through photosynthesis sinks to the depths in the form of small carbonaceous particles. As a result, the carbon is stored for a long time in the deep sea. The ocean thus acts as a carbon sink in the climate system. How strongly this biological pump acts varies greatly from region to region and depends on the composition of species in the ecosystem.

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Impact of ocean warming and acidification on symbiosis establishment and gene expression profiles in recruits of reef coral Acropora intermedia

The onset of symbiosis and the early development of most broadcast spawning corals play pivotal roles in recruitment success, yet these critical early stages are threatened by multiple stressors. However, molecular mechanisms governing these critical processes under ocean warming and acidification are still poorly understood. The present study investigated the interactive impact of elevated temperature (∼28.0°C and ∼30.5°C) and partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2) (∼600 and ∼1,200 μatm) on early development and the gene expression patterns in juvenile Acropora intermedia over 33 days. The results showed that coral survival was >89% and was unaffected by high temperature, pCO2, or the combined treatment. Notably, high temperature completely arrested successful symbiosis establishment and the budding process, whereas acidification had a negligible effect. Moreover, there was a positive exponential relationship between symbiosis establishment and budding rates (y = 0.0004e6.43xR = 0.72, P < 0.0001), which indicated the importance of symbiosis in fueling asexual budding. Compared with corals at the control temperature (28°C), those under elevated temperature preferentially harbored Durusdinium spp., despite unsuccessful symbiosis establishment. In addition, compared to the control, 351 and 153 differentially expressed genes were detected in the symbiont and coral host in response to experimental conditions, respectively. In coral host, some genes involved in nutrient transportation and tissue fluorescence were affected by high temperature. In the symbionts, a suite of genes related to cell growth, ribosomal proteins, photosynthesis, and energy production was downregulated under high temperatures, which may have severely hampered successful cell proliferation of the endosymbionts and explains the failure of symbiosis establishment. Therefore, our results suggest that the responses of symbionts to future ocean conditions could play a vital role in shaping successful symbiosis in juvenile coral.

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Differential sensitivity of a symbiont‐bearing foraminifer to seawater carbonate chemistry in a decoupled DIC‐pH experiment

Larger benthic foraminifera (LBF) are unicellular eukaryotic calcifying organisms and an important component of tropical and subtropical modern and ancient oceanic ecosystems. They are major calcium carbonate producers and important contributors to primary production due to the photosynthetic activity of their symbiotic algae. Studies investigating the response of LBF to seawater carbonate chemistry changes are therefore essential for understanding the impact of climate changes and ocean acidification (OA) on shallow marine ecosystems. In this study, calcification, respiration, and photosynthesis of the widespread diatom‐bearing LBF Operculina ammonoides were measured in laboratory experiments that included manipulation of carbonate chemistry parameters. pH was altered while keeping dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) constant, and DIC was altered while keeping pH constant. The results show clear vulnerability of O. ammonoides to low pH and CO32− under constant DIC conditions, and no increased photosynthesis or calcification under high DIC concentrations. Our results call into question previous hypotheses, suggesting that mechanisms such as the degree of cellular control on calcification site pH/DIC and/or enhanced symbiont photosynthesis in response to OA may render the hyaline (perforate and calcitic‐radial) LBF to be less responsive to OA than porcelaneous LBF. In addition, manipulating DIC did not affect calcification when pH was close to present seawater levels in a model encompassing the total population size range. In contrast, larger individuals (>1,200 μm, >1 mg) were sensitive to changes in DIC, a phenomenon we attribute to their physiological requirement to concentrate large quantities of DIC for their calcification process.

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Seasonal controls of the carbon biogeochemistry of a fringing coral reef in the Gulf of California, Mexico

The surface of the ocean has absorbed one-third of the CO2gas that has been released by anthropogenic activities, which has resulted in a reduction in pH and the aragonite saturation state (Ωara) with potential negative impacts in calcifying organisms, such as corals. To evaluate these effects, the natural variability present must first be understood, including that of processes that operate at diurnal, seasonal, and interannual frequencies. The objective of this study was to determine the influence of physical and biogeochemical processes on the seasonal variability of the CO2-system in a fringe coral reef of the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP). To achieve this, a SeapHOx sensor was installed to measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and pHTot at 30-min intervals from November 2013 (early winter) to July 2014 (early summer). The recorded temperature and salinity data fed a mixing model to identify the water masses present in the reef. We show how physical and biogeochemical oceanic processes influence and control the variability of the carbonate system. The presence of water masses with different carbon chemistries responded to two scenarios: (1) seasonal circulation on the order of months and (2) an intermittence between water masses related to mesoscale structures (eddies) on the order of weeks. A low-pH and Ωara condition was detected during summer, which was related to the presence of warm and respired Tropical Surface Water. The broadest changes in Ωara were the result of physical processes (winter ΔΩara = 0.14 and summer ΔΩara = 0.34 units) and corresponded to the transition between water masses with different carbon-biogeochemistry signals. Our results suggest that the Cabo Pulmo coral community develops in an environment with a wide range of pH and Ωara conditions and that seasonal changes are controlled by open ocean carbon biogeochemistry.

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