Articles | Volume 11, issue 24
Research article
 | Highlight paper
19 Dec 2014
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 19 Dec 2014

Processes determining the marine alkalinity and calcium carbonate saturation state distributions

B. R. Carter, J. R. Toggweiler, R. M. Key, and J. L. Sarmiento

Abstract. We introduce a composite tracer for the marine system, Alk*, that has a global distribution primarily determined by CaCO3 precipitation and dissolution. Alk* is also affected by riverine alkalinity from dissolved terrestrial carbonate minerals. We estimate that the Arctic receives approximately twice the riverine alkalinity per unit area as the Atlantic, and 8 times that of the other oceans. Riverine inputs broadly elevate Alk* in the Arctic surface and particularly near river mouths. Strong net carbonate precipitation results in low Alk* in subtropical gyres, especially in the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Upwelling of dissolved CaCO3-rich deep water elevates North Pacific and Southern Ocean Alk*. We use the Alk* distribution to estimate the variability of the calcite saturation state resulting from CaCO3 cycling and other processes. We show that regional differences in surface calcite saturation state are due primarily to the effect of temperature differences on CO2 solubility and, to a lesser extent, differences in freshwater content and air–sea disequilibria. The variations in net calcium carbonate cycling revealed by Alk* play a comparatively minor role in determining the calcium carbonate saturation state.

Short summary
We examine and discuss the portion of ocean alkalinity that varies in response to carbonate cycling and riverine alkalinity inputs using a new tracer, Alk*. We use this tracer to quantify the controls on marine carbonate saturation: at depth, we find carbonate cycling to be a minor control relative to organic matter cycling and pressure changes. In well-equilibrated surface water, we find carbonate cycling to be less important than temperature changes and freshwater cycling.
Final-revised paper