Carbon Cycling in Carbonate-Dominated Benthic Ecosystems: Eddy Covariance Hydrogen Ion and Oxygen Fluxes
Chemical and biological processes that occur in and on the seafloor can create chemical exchange of elements with seawater and make significant contributions to carbon and nutrient cycling in shallow coastal systems. However, these processes are exceedingly difficult to measure directly in the ocean, with no satisfactory methods currently available to quantify their full impact. The researchers undertaking this project have developed a unique, field instrument referred to as the Eddy Covariance H+ and O2 Exchange System (ECHOES). These novel measurements of hydrogen ion (H+) and oxygen (O2) exchange between the seafloor and the overlying seawater will allow unique, direct evaluation of the important linked biological and chemical reactions. Data from ECHOES will transform understanding of the potentially critical contribution of seafloor processes to the resilience of coastal ecosystems experiencing rapid changes in seawater chemistry. Results from this project will provide critical data for improved models of the consequences of coastal acidification. Additionally, this project will fund an early career scientist and the mentorship of undergraduate students in ocean science research through the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's Summer Student Fellowship Program. Laboratory experiments have successfully examined the benthic response of individual organisms and chemical reactions to stress related to changing seawater chemistry but the integrated response of intact ecosystems has been very difficult to quantify due to unsatisfactory methods for in situ measurements of the required suite of biogeochemical fluxes. This deployment of ECHOES at a variety of carbonate-dominated seafloor sites in Bermuda is a pioneering effort to simultaneously measure net community production (NCP) and net community calcification (NCC). The study will focus on traditionally difficult-to-study systems including complex reefs, vertical seagrass canopies, and bare permeable sediments, evaluating diel variability, patchiness, and the impact of upstream fluxes on downstream ecosystems. Important biogeochemical parameters (e.g. pH, CO2, O2, alkalinity, etc.) in these productive shallow environments can experience daily fluctuations over a greater dynamic range than 100-year model projections for the open ocean due to increasing atmospheric CO2. Therefore, the novel field data generated by this research will help define the potentially critical and heretofore ill-defined role for shallow, productive carbonate sediments in predictive models of ecosystem response to ocean acidification.