High temporal and spatial variability of dissolved oxygen and pH in a nearshore California kelp forest
Abstract. Predicting consequences of ocean deoxygenation and ocean acidification for nearshore marine ecosystems requires baseline dissolved oxygen (DO) and carbonate chemistry data that are both high-frequency and high-quality. Such data allow accurate assessment of environmental variability and present-day organism exposure regimes. In this study, scales of DO and pH variability were characterized over one year in a nearshore kelp forest ecosystem in the Southern California Bight. DO and pH were strongly, positively correlated, revealing that organisms on this upwelling shelf are not only exposed to low pH but also to low DO. The dominant scale of temporal DO and pH variability occurred on semidiurnal, diurnal and event (days–weeks) time scales. Daily ranges in DO and pH at 7 m water depth (13 mab) could be as large as 220 μmol kg−1 and 0.36 units, respectively. Sources of pH and DO variation include photosynthesis within the kelp forest ecosystem, which can elevate DO and pH by up to 60 μmol kg−1 and 0.1 units over one week following the intrusion of high-density, nutrient-rich water. Accordingly, highly productive macrophyte-based ecosystems could serve as deoxygenation and acidification refugia by acting to elevate DO and pH relative to surrounding waters. DO and pH exhibited greater spatial variation over a 10 m increase in water depth (from 7 to 17 m) than along a 5 km stretch of shelf in a cross-shore or alongshore direction. Over a three-month time period, mean DO and pH at 17 m water depth were 168 μmol kg−1 and 7.87, respectively. These values represent a 35% decrease in mean DO and 37% increase in [H+] relative to near-surface waters. High-frequency variation was also reduced at depth. The mean daily range in DO and pH was 39% and 37% less, respectively, at 17 m water depth relative to 7 m. As a consequence, the exposure history of an organism is largely a function of its depth of occurrence within the kelp forest. With knowledge of local alkalinity conditions and high-frequency temperature, salinity, and pH data, we estimated pCO2 and calcium carbonate saturation states with respect to calcite and aragonite (Ωcalc and Ωarag) for the La Jolla kelp forest at 7 m and 17 m water depth. pCO2 ranged from 246 to 1016 μatm, Ωcalc was always supersaturated, and Ωarag was undersaturated at the beginning of March for five days when pH was less than 7.75 and DO was less than 115 μmol kg−1. These findings raise the possibility that the benthic communities along eastern boundary current systems are currently acclimatized and adapted to natural, variable, and low DO and pH. Still, future exposure of coastal California populations to even lower DO and pH may increase as upwelling intensifies and hypoxic boundaries shoal, compressing habitats and challenging the physiological capacity of intolerant species.