On the Response of pH to Inorganic Nutrient Enrichment in Well-Mixed Coastal Marine Waters

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Recent concerns about declining pH in the surface ocean in response to anthropogenic increases of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have raised the question of how this declining baseline of oceanic pH might interact with the much larger diel and seasonal variations of pH in coastal marine ecosystems. Nutrient enrichment, which can amplify both production and respiration, has the potential to reduce or exacerbate the impacts of ocean acidification in coastal waters. Here, we present results from a multi-year experiment in which replicate phytoplankton-based mesocosms with a 5-m deep well-mixed water column (salinity = 27–31) and intact benthic community were exposed to a gradient in daily inorganic nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and silica (Si) addition. We show that the response of water column pH to nutrient enrichment was the greatest during the autotrophic winter-spring period, and there was no significant decline in pH across treatments during the heterotrophic summer-fall period. We believe that the differences in response lie in the seasonal cycles of production and respiration, where spring production peaks are large and discrete, and respiration is more temperature-driven but occurs diffusely throughout the year. The observed basification associated with enhanced nutrient inputs may have consequences for phytoplankton community structure, some species of submersed aquatic vegetation, cycling of Si, and perhaps other ecological processes.

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Estuaries and Coasts