National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Multiple factors driving variability of CO2 exchange between the ocean and atmosphere in a tropical coral reef environment

Massaro, R.F.S., E.H. De Carlo, P.S. Drupp, F.T. Mackenzie, S. Maenner Jones, K.E. Shamberger, C.L. Sabine, and R.A. Feely

Aquat. Geochem., 18(4), 357–386, doi: 10.1007/s10498-012-9170-7 (2012)

In this paper, we present the results of the first automated continuous multi-year high temporal frequency study of CO2 dynamics in a coastal coral reef ecosystem. The data cover 2.5 years of nearly continuous operation of the CRIMP-CO2 buoy spanning particularly wet and dry seasons in southern Kaneohe Bay, a semi-enclosed tropical coral reef ecosystem in Hawaii. We interpret our observational results in the context of how rapidly changing physical and biogeochemical conditions affect the pCO2 of surface waters and the magnitude and direction of air–sea exchange of CO2. Local climatic forcing strongly affects the biogeochemistry, water column properties, and gas exchange between the ocean and atmosphere in Kaneohe Bay. Rainfall driven by trade winds and other localized storms generates pulses of nutrient-rich water, which exert a strong control on primary productivity and impact carbon cycling in the water column of the bay. The “La Niña” winter of 2005–2006 was one of the wettest winters in Hawaii in 30 years and contrasted sharply with preceding and subsequent drier winter seasons. In addition, short-term variability in physical forcing adds complexity and helps drive the response of the CO2–carbonic acid system of the bay. Freshwater pulses to Kaneohe Bay provide nutrient subsidies to bay waters, relieving the normal nitrogen limitation of this system and driving phytoplankton productivity. Seawater pCO2 responds to the blooms as well as to physical forcing mechanisms, leading to a relatively wide range of pCO2 in seawater from about 250 to 650 μatm, depending on conditions. Large drawdowns in pCO2 following storms occasionally cause bay waters to switch from being a source of CO2 to the atmosphere to being a sink. Yet, during our study period, the southern sector of Kaneohe Bay remained a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere on an annualized basis. The integrated net annual flux of CO2 from the bay to the atmosphere varied between years by a factor of more than two and was lower during the wet “La Niña” year, than during the following year. Over the study period, the net annualized flux was 1.80 mol C m−2 year−1. Our CO2 flux estimates are consistent with prior synoptic work in Kaneohe Bay and with estimates in other tropical coral reef ecosystems studied to date. The high degree of climatological, physical, and biogeochemical variability observed in this study suggests that automated high-frequency observations are needed to capture the short-, intermediate-, and long-term variability of CO2 and other properties of these highly dynamic coastal coral reef ecosystems.

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