"The ratio of inorganic to organic carbon is important," Stillman explained. "As inorganic carbon increases, it adds more ballast to the hard shell, which makes it sink and makes it more likely to be transported to the deep ocean. Without this, the carbon is more likely to be recycled into the Earth's atmosphere."
"Our results suggest in the future there will be overall lower amounts of calcification and overall lower amount of transport of carbon to the deep ocean," he added.
Emiliania huxleyi typically use nitrates to make proteins, but this form of nitrogen may be in shorter supply for the phytoplankton as the world's oceans grow warmer and more acidic, Stillman and colleagues suggest. In the open ocean, nitrates are upwelled from deep waters, but a thickening layer of warmer surface water could inhibit this upwelling. At the same time, the warmer temperatures favor bacteria that turn recycled nitrogen from surface waters and the atmosphere into ammonium, and acidification inhibits the bacteria that turn ammonium into nitrate.
"It is likely that in the future, the ocean surface will contain more ammonium," which the phytoplankton will assimilate instead of nitrates, Stillman suggested. "Metabolizing nitrogen as ammonium versus nitrates requires different biochemical constituents that impact how well the cells make their coccoliths. They will survive just fine, but their biology will be different as a result."
The study by Stillman and colleagues is the first to look at the intertwined effects of ocean acidification and changes in nitrogen on phytoplankton like Emiliania huxleyi. It's also one of the first studies to observe these effects continuously over a long time scale, "so the responses of the phytoplankton are likely what we'll see in the ocean itself," St
|Contact: Nan Broadbent|
San Francisco State University