Articles | Volume 12, issue 5
Research article
11 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 11 Mar 2015

Biogeochemical processes and buffering capacity concurrently affect acidification in a seasonally hypoxic coastal marine basin

M. Hagens, C. P. Slomp, F. J. R. Meysman, D. Seitaj, J. Harlay, A. V. Borges, and J. J. Middelburg

Abstract. Coastal areas are impacted by multiple natural and anthropogenic processes and experience stronger pH fluctuations than the open ocean. These variations can weaken or intensify the ocean acidification signal induced by increasing atmospheric pCO2. The development of eutrophication-induced hypoxia intensifies coastal acidification, since the CO2 produced during respiration decreases the buffering capacity in any hypoxic bottom water. To assess the combined ecosystem impacts of acidification and hypoxia, we quantified the seasonal variation in pH and oxygen dynamics in the water column of a seasonally stratified coastal basin (Lake Grevelingen, the Netherlands).

Monthly water-column chemistry measurements were complemented with estimates of primary production and respiration using O2 light–dark incubations, in addition to sediment–water fluxes of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and total alkalinity (TA). The resulting data set was used to set up a proton budget on a seasonal scale.

Temperature-induced seasonal stratification combined with a high community respiration was responsible for the depletion of oxygen in the bottom water in summer. The surface water showed strong seasonal variation in process rates (primary production, CO2 air–sea exchange), but relatively small seasonal pH fluctuations (0.46 units on the total hydrogen ion scale). In contrast, the bottom water showed less seasonality in biogeochemical rates (respiration, sediment–water exchange), but stronger pH fluctuations (0.60 units). This marked difference in pH dynamics could be attributed to a substantial reduction in the acid–base buffering capacity of the hypoxic bottom water in the summer period. Our results highlight the importance of acid–base buffering in the pH dynamics of coastal systems and illustrate the increasing vulnerability of hypoxic, CO2-rich waters to any acidifying process.

Short summary
This study looks at the combined impacts of hypoxia and acidification, two major environmental stressors affecting coastal systems, in a seasonally stratified basin. Here, the surface water experiences less seasonality in pH than the bottom water despite higher process rates. This is due to a substantial reduction in the acid-base buffering capacity of the bottom water as it turns hypoxic in summer. This highlights the crucial role of the buffering capacity as a modulating factor in pH dynamics.
Final-revised paper