Quantifying the effects of nutrient enrichment and freshwater mixing on coastal ocean acidification
The US Northeast is vulnerable to ocean and coastal acidification because of low alkalinity freshwater discharge that naturally acidifies the region, and high anthropogenic nutrient loads that lead to eutrophication in many estuaries. This study describes a combined nutrient and carbonate chemistry monitoring program in 5 embayments of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts to quantify the effects of nutrient loading and freshwater discharge on aragonite saturation state (Ω). Monitoring occurred monthly from June 2015 – September 2017 with higher frequency at two embayments (Quissett and West Falmouth Harbors) and across nitrogen loading and freshwater discharge gradients. The more eutrophic stations experienced seasonal aragonite undersaturation, and at one site, nearly every measurement collected was undersaturated. We present an analytical framework to decompose variability in aragonite Ω into components driven by temperature, salinity, freshwater endmember mixing, and biogeochemical processes. We observed strong correlations between apparent oxygen utilization and the portion of aragonite Ω variation that we attribute to biogeochemistry. The regression slopes were consistent with Redfield ratios of dissolved inorganic carbon and total alkalinity to dissolved oxygen. Total nitrogen and the contribution of biogeochemical processes to aragonite Ω were highly correlated, and this relationship was used to estimate the likely effects of nitrogen loading improvements on aragonite Ω. Under nitrogen loading reduction scenarios, aragonite Ω in the most eutrophic estuaries could be raised by nearly 0.6 units, potentially increasing several stations above the critical threshold of 1. This analysis provides a quantitative framework for incorporating ocean and coastal acidification impacts into regulatory and management discussions.