Temperate carbonate cycling and water mass properties from intertidal to bathyal depths (Azores)


The rugged submarine topography of the Azores supports a diverse heterozoan association resulting in intense biotically-controlled carbonate-production and accumulation. In order to characterise this cold-water (C) factory a 2-year experiment was carried out in the southern Faial Channel to study the biodiversity of hardground communities and for budgeting carbonate production and degradation along a bathymetrical transect from the intertidal to bathyal 500 m depth. Seasonal temperatures peak in September (above a thermocline) and bottom in March (stratification diminishes) with a decrease in amplitude and absolute values with depth, and tidal-driven short-term fluctuations. Measured seawater stable isotope ratios and levels of dissolved nutrients decrease with depth, as do the calcium carbonate saturation states. The photosynthetic active radiation shows a base of the euphotic zone in ~70 m and a dysphotic limit in ~150 m depth. Bioerosion, being primarily a function of light availability for phototrophic endoliths and grazers feeding upon them, is ~10 times stronger on the illuminated upside versus the shaded underside of substrates in the photic zone, with maximum rates in the intertidal (−631 g/m2/yr). Rates rapidly decline towards deeper waters where bioerosion and carbonate accretion are slow and epibenthic/endolithic communities take years to mature. Accretion rates are highest in the lower euphotic zone (955 g/m2/yr), where the substrate is less prone to hydrodynamic force. Highest rates are found – inversely to bioerosion – on down-facing substrates, suggesting that bioerosion may be a key factor governing the preferential settlement and growth of calcareous epilithobionts on down-facing substrates. In context of a latitudinal gradient, the Azores carbonate cycling rates plot between known values from the cold-temperate Swedish Kosterfjord and the tropical Bahamas, with a total range of two orders in magnitude. Carbonate budget calculations for the bathymetrical transect yield a mean 266.9 kg of epilithic carbonate production, −54.6 kg of bioerosion, and 212.3 kg of annual net carbonate production per metre of coastline in the Azores C factory

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