Research Article: Dissolution Dominating Calcification Process in Polar Pteropods Close to the Point of Aragonite Undersaturation

Date Published: October 6, 2014

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Nina Bednaršek, Geraint A. Tarling, Dorothee C. E. Bakker, Sophie Fielding, Richard A. Feely, Pauline Ross.


Thecosome pteropods are abundant upper-ocean zooplankton that build aragonite shells. Ocean acidification results in the lowering of aragonite saturation levels in the surface layers, and several incubation studies have shown that rates of calcification in these organisms decrease as a result. This study provides a weight-specific net calcification rate function for thecosome pteropods that includes both rates of dissolution and calcification over a range of plausible future aragonite saturation states (Ωar). We measured gross dissolution in the pteropod Limacina helicina antarctica in the Scotia Sea (Southern Ocean) by incubating living specimens across a range of aragonite saturation states for a maximum of 14 days. Specimens started dissolving almost immediately upon exposure to undersaturated conditions (Ωar∼0.8), losing 1.4% of shell mass per day. The observed rate of gross dissolution was different from that predicted by rate law kinetics of aragonite dissolution, in being higher at Ωar levels slightly above 1 and lower at Ωar levels of between 1 and 0.8. This indicates that shell mass is affected by even transitional levels of saturation, but there is, nevertheless, some partial means of protection for shells when in undersaturated conditions. A function for gross dissolution against Ωar derived from the present observations was compared to a function for gross calcification derived by a different study, and showed that dissolution became the dominating process even at Ωar levels close to 1, with net shell growth ceasing at an Ωar of 1.03. Gross dissolution increasingly dominated net change in shell mass as saturation levels decreased below 1. As well as influencing their viability, such dissolution of pteropod shells in the surface layers will result in slower sinking velocities and decreased carbon and carbonate fluxes to the deep ocean.

Partial Text

Formation and dissolution of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), and carbon export from the surface to the deep ocean are important mechanisms in the global carbon cycle, immediately related to the control of atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) and regulation of the dissolved CO2 concentration and pH [1]–[4]. CaCO3 can occur in calcite, aragonite, or high-magnesium calcite form, and different planktonic species produce shells or skeletons of one of these mineral forms. Aragonite is the more soluble form of CaCO3, and its formation and dissolution is determined by the CaCO3 saturation state (Ωar), which is the product of the concentrations of calcium (Ca2+) and carbonate ions (CO32−) at the in situ temperature, salinity, and pressure, divided by the apparent stoichiometric solubility product for the structural form of CaCO3 (K*sp):(1)