Articles | Volume 7, issue 8
13 Aug 2010
 | 13 Aug 2010

Temperate carbonate cycling and water mass properties from intertidal to bathyal depths (Azores)

M. Wisshak, A. Form, J. Jakobsen, and A. Freiwald

Abstract. The rugged submarine topography of the Azores supports a diverse heterozoan association resulting in intense biotically-controlled carbonate-production and accumulation. In order to characterise this cold-water (C) factory a 2-year experiment was carried out in the southern Faial Channel to study the biodiversity of hardground communities and for budgeting carbonate production and degradation along a bathymetrical transect from the intertidal to bathyal 500 m depth.

Seasonal temperatures peak in September (above a thermocline) and bottom in March (stratification diminishes) with a decrease in amplitude and absolute values with depth, and tidal-driven short-term fluctuations. Measured seawater stable isotope ratios and levels of dissolved nutrients decrease with depth, as do the calcium carbonate saturation states. The photosynthetic active radiation shows a base of the euphotic zone in ~70 m and a dysphotic limit in ~150 m depth.

Bioerosion, being primarily a function of light availability for phototrophic endoliths and grazers feeding upon them, is ~10 times stronger on the illuminated upside versus the shaded underside of substrates in the photic zone, with maximum rates in the intertidal (−631 g/m2/yr). Rates rapidly decline towards deeper waters where bioerosion and carbonate accretion are slow and epibenthic/endolithic communities take years to mature. Accretion rates are highest in the lower euphotic zone (955 g/m2/yr), where the substrate is less prone to hydrodynamic force. Highest rates are found – inversely to bioerosion – on down-facing substrates, suggesting that bioerosion may be a key factor governing the preferential settlement and growth of calcareous epilithobionts on down-facing substrates.

In context of a latitudinal gradient, the Azores carbonate cycling rates plot between known values from the cold-temperate Swedish Kosterfjord and the tropical Bahamas, with a total range of two orders in magnitude. Carbonate budget calculations for the bathymetrical transect yield a mean 266.9 kg of epilithic carbonate production, −54.6 kg of bioerosion, and 212.3 kg of annual net carbonate production per metre of coastline in the Azores C factory.

Final-revised paper