Articles | Volume 11, issue 2
Research article
28 Jan 2014
Research article |  | 28 Jan 2014

Calcium carbonate corrosivity in an Alaskan inland sea

W. Evans, J. T. Mathis, and J. N. Cross

Abstract. Ocean acidification is the hydrogen ion increase caused by the oceanic uptake of anthropogenic CO2, and is a focal point in marine biogeochemistry, in part, because this chemical reaction reduces calcium carbonate (CaCO3) saturation states (Ω) to levels that are corrosive (i.e., Ω ≤ 1) to shell-forming marine organisms. However, other processes can drive CaCO3 corrosivity; specifically, the addition of tidewater glacial melt. Carbonate system data collected in May and September from 2009 through 2012 in Prince William Sound (PWS), a semienclosed inland sea located on the south-central coast of Alaska and ringed with fjords containing tidewater glaciers, reveal the unique impact of glacial melt on CaCO3 corrosivity. Initial limited sampling was expanded in September 2011 to span large portions of the western and central sound, and included two fjords proximal to tidewater glaciers: Icy Bay and Columbia Bay. The observed conditions in these fjords affected CaCO3 corrosivity in the upper water column (< 50 m) in PWS in two ways: (1) as spring-time formation sites of mode water with near-corrosive Ω levels seen below the mixed layer over a portion of the sound, and (2) as point sources for surface plumes of glacial melt with corrosive Ω levels (Ω for aragonite and calcite down to 0.60 and 1.02, respectively) and carbon dioxide partial pressures (pCO2) well below atmospheric levels. CaCO3 corrosivity in glacial melt plumes is poorly reflected by pCO2 or pHT, indicating that either one of these carbonate parameters alone would fail to track Ω in PWS. The unique Ω and pCO2 conditions in the glacial melt plumes enhances atmospheric CO2 uptake, which, if not offset by mixing or primary productivity, would rapidly exacerbate CaCO3 corrosivity in a positive feedback. The cumulative effects of glacial melt and air–sea gas exchange are likely responsible for the seasonal reduction of Ω in PWS, making PWS highly sensitive to increasing atmospheric CO2 and amplified CaCO3 corrosivity.

Final-revised paper