An inland sea high nitrate-low chlorophyll (HNLC) region with naturally high pCO2

A 2015 paper in the journal Limnology and Oceanography presents new data on ocean acidification in the Salish Sea.

Cover image for Limnology and Oceanography volume 60
Cover image for Limnology and Oceanography volume 60


We present a time series of data for temperature, salinity, nitrate, and carbonate chemistry from September 2011 to July 2013 at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories. Samples were collected at the Friday Harbor dock and pump house. Seawater conditions at Friday Harbor were high nitrate-low chlorophyll, with average nitrate and pCO2 concentrations of ∼ 25 ± 5 μmol L−1 and ∼ 700 ± 103 μatm (pH 7.80 ± 0.06). Transient decreases in surface water nitrate and pCO2 corresponded with the timing of a spring bloom (April through June). The high nitrate and pCO2 originate from the high values for these parameters in the source waters to the Salish Sea from the California Undercurrent (CU). These properties are due to natural aerobic respiration in the region where the CU originates, which is the oxygen minimum zone in the eastern tropical North Pacific. Alkalinity varies little so the increase in pCO2 is due to inputs of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). This increase in DIC can come from both natural aerobic respiration within the ocean and input of anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere when the water was last at the sea surface. We calculated that the anthropogenic “ocean acidification” contribution to DIC in the source waters of the CU was 36 μmol L−1. This contribution ranged from 13% to 22% of the total increase in DIC, depending on which stoichiometry was used for C/O2 ratio (Redfield vs. Hedges). The remaining increase in DIC was due to natural aerobic respiration.


Murray, J. W., Roberts, E., Howard, E., O'Donnell, M., Bantam, C., Carrington, E., Foy, M. Mike, Paul, B. and Fay, A. (2015). An inland sea high nitrate‐low chlorophyll (HNLC) region with naturally high pCO2. Limnology and Oceanography.Volume 60, Issue 3, pages 957–966.

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