Novel methodology for in situ carbon dioxide enrichment of benthic ecosystems

Justin E. Campbell, James W. Fourqurean

Limnol. Oceanogr. Methods 9:97-109 (2011) | DOI: 10.4319/lom.2011.9.97

ABSTRACT: Future climate change will likely represent a major stress to shallow aquatic and coastal marine communities around the world. Most climate change research, particularly in regards to increased pCO2 and ocean acidification, relies on ex situ mesocosm experimentation, isolating target organisms from their environment. Such mesocosms allow for greater experimental control of some variables, but can often cause unrealistic changes in a variety of environmental factors, leading to "bottle effects." Here we present an in situ technique of altering dissolved pCO2 within nearshore benthic communities (e.g., macrophytes, algae, and/or corals) using submerged clear, open-top chambers. Our technique utilizes a flow-through design that replicates natural water flow conditions and minimizes caging effects. The clear, open-top design additionally ensures that adequate light reaches the benthic community. Our results show that CO2 concentrations and pH can be successfully manipulated for long durations within the open-top chambers, continuously replicating forecasts for the year 2100. Enriched chambers displayed an average 0.46 unit reduction in pH as compared with ambient chambers over a 6-month period. Additionally, CO2 and HCO3- concentrations were all significantly higher within the enriched chambers. We discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this technique in comparison to other ex situ mesocosm designs used for climate change research.