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Partial offsets in ocean acidification from changing coral reef biogeochemistry


Concerns have been raised about how coral reefs will be affected by ocean acidification1,2, but projections of future seawater CO2 chemistry have focused solely on changes in the pH and aragonite saturation state (Ωa) of open-ocean surface seawater conditions surrounding coral reefs1,2,3,4 rather than the reef systems themselves. The seawater CO2 chemistry within heterogeneous reef systems can be significantly different from that of the open ocean depending on the residence time, community composition and the main biogeochemical processes occurring on the reef, that is, net ecosystem production (NEP = gross primary production − autotrophic and heterotrophic respiration) and net ecosystem calcification (NEC = gross calcification − gross CaCO3 dissolution), which combined act to modify seawater chemistry5,6,7. On the basis of observations from the Bermuda coral reef, we show that a range of projected biogeochemical responses of coral reef communities to ocean acidification by the end of this century could partially offset changes in seawater pH and Ωa by an average of 12–24% and 15–31%, respectively.

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Figure 1: Bathymetry of the Bermuda coral reef platform.
Figure 2: Surface seawater CO2 system parameters on the Bermuda coral reef platform in 2010.
Figure 3: Biogeochemical control of DIC and TA on the Bermuda coral reef and resulting seawater Ωa.
Figure 4: Projected summer surface seawater pH and Ωa on the Bermuda coral reef platform in the year 2100.
Figure 5: Projected winter surface seawater pH and Ωa on the Bermuda coral reef platform in the year 2100.


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The authors gratefully acknowledge support from NSF Grants OCE 09-28406 (A.J.A., N.R.B., S.J.d.P.) and OCE 12-55042 (A.J.A.) and NOAA grant NA10AR4310094 (A.J.A., N.R.B.). We thank the MEP laboratory at BIOS, and especially T. Noyes, as well as the BATS laboratory for assisting with monthly collection of seawater samples inshore and offshore. We are also grateful to A. Collins, R. Garley, M. Best, K. Neely, G. Fuentes, M. Humphrey, A. Cevallos and R. Rasse for help with spatial surveys and sample analyses.

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A.J.A. and N.R.B. designed the study. A.J.A. carried out the study, data analyses (with K.L.Y.), model calculations and simulations. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Andreas J. Andersson.

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Andersson, A., Yeakel, K., Bates, N. et al. Partial offsets in ocean acidification from changing coral reef biogeochemistry. Nature Clim Change 4, 56–61 (2014).

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