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      Sensitivity of coccolithophores to carbonate chemistry and ocean acidification

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          Abstract

          About one-third of the carbon dioxide (CO(2)) released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity has been absorbed by the oceans, where it partitions into the constituent ions of carbonic acid. This leads to ocean acidification, one of the major threats to marine ecosystems and particularly to calcifying organisms such as corals, foraminifera and coccolithophores. Coccolithophores are abundant phytoplankton that are responsible for a large part of modern oceanic carbonate production. Culture experiments investigating the physiological response of coccolithophore calcification to increased CO(2) have yielded contradictory results between and even within species. Here we quantified the calcite mass of dominant coccolithophores in the present ocean and over the past forty thousand years, and found a marked pattern of decreasing calcification with increasing partial pressure of CO(2) and concomitant decreasing concentrations of CO(3)(2-). Our analyses revealed that differentially calcified species and morphotypes are distributed in the ocean according to carbonate chemistry. A substantial impact on the marine carbon cycle might be expected upon extrapolation of this correlation to predicted ocean acidification in the future. However, our discovery of a heavily calcified Emiliania huxleyi morphotype in modern waters with low pH highlights the complexity of assemblage-level responses to environmental forcing factors.

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          Phytoplankton calcification in a high-CO2 world.

          Ocean acidification in response to rising atmospheric CO2 partial pressures is widely expected to reduce calcification by marine organisms. From the mid-Mesozoic, coccolithophores have been major calcium carbonate producers in the world's oceans, today accounting for about a third of the total marine CaCO3 production. Here, we present laboratory evidence that calcification and net primary production in the coccolithophore species Emiliania huxleyi are significantly increased by high CO2 partial pressures. Field evidence from the deep ocean is consistent with these laboratory conclusions, indicating that over the past 220 years there has been a 40% increase in average coccolith mass. Our findings show that coccolithophores are already responding and will probably continue to respond to rising atmospheric CO2 partial pressures, which has important implications for biogeochemical modeling of future oceans and climate.
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            Reduced calcification of marine plankton in response to increased atmospheric CO2.

            The formation of calcareous skeletons by marine planktonic organisms and their subsequent sinking to depth generates a continuous rain of calcium carbonate to the deep ocean and underlying sediments. This is important in regulating marine carbon cycling and ocean-atmosphere CO2 exchange. The present rise in atmospheric CO2 levels causes significant changes in surface ocean pH and carbonate chemistry. Such changes have been shown to slow down calcification in corals and coralline macroalgae, but the majority of marine calcification occurs in planktonic organisms. Here we report reduced calcite production at increased CO2 concentrations in monospecific cultures of two dominant marine calcifying phytoplankton species, the coccolithophorids Emiliania huxleyi and Gephyrocapsa oceanica. This was accompanied by an increased proportion of malformed coccoliths and incomplete coccospheres. Diminished calcification led to a reduction in the ratio of calcite precipitation to organic matter production. Similar results were obtained in incubations of natural plankton assemblages from the north Pacific ocean when exposed to experimentally elevated CO2 levels. We suggest that the progressive increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations may therefore slow down the production of calcium carbonate in the surface ocean. As the process of calcification releases CO2 to the atmosphere, the response observed here could potentially act as a negative feedback on atmospheric CO2 levels.
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              Effect of calcium carbonate saturation of seawater on coral calcification

              J Gattuso (1998)
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                August 2011
                August 3 2011
                August 2011
                : 476
                : 7358
                : 80-83
                Article
                10.1038/nature10295
                21814280
                e1b02f67-7078-4fc1-825d-bf443f4fc8d9
                © 2011

                http://www.springer.com/tdm

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