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International Conference on Climate Change Global Warming

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Total alkalinity: The explicit conservative expression and its application to biogeochemical processes

Author(s): Wolf-Gladrow DA, Zeebe RE, Klaas C, Körtzinger A, Dickson AG


Total alkalinity (TA) is one of the few measurable quantities that can be used together with other quantities to calculate concentrations of species of the carbonate system (CO2, HCO3−, CO32−, H+, OH−). TA and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) are conservative quantities with respect to mixing and changes in temperature and pressure and are, therefore, used in oceanic carbon cycle models. Thus it is important to understand the changes of TA due to various biogeochemical processes such as formation and remineralization of organic matter by microalgae, precipitation and dissolution of calcium carbonate. Unfortunately deriving such changes from the common expression for TA in terms of concentrations of non-conservative chemical species (HCO3−, CO32−, B(OH)4−, H+, OH−, etc.) is rarely obvious.

Here an expression for TA (TAec) in terms of the total concentrations of certain major ions (Na+, Cl−, Ca2+ etc.) and the total concentrations of various acid-base species (total phosphate etc.) is derived from Dickson's original definition of TA under the constraint of electroneutrality. Changes of TA by various biogeochemical processes are easy to derive from this so-called explicit conservative expression for TA because each term in this expression is independent of changes of temperature or pressure within the ranges normally encountered in the ocean and obeys a linear mixing relation.

Further, the constrains of electroneutrality for nutrient uptake by microalgae and photoautotrophs are discussed. A so-called nutrient-H+-compensation principle is proposed. This principle in combination with TAec allows one to make predictions for changes in TA due to uptake of nutrients that are consistent with observations. A new prediction based on this principle is the change in TA due to nitrogen fixation followed by remineralization of organic matter and subsequent nitrification of ammonia which implies a significant sink of TA in tropical and subtropical regions where most of the nitrogen fixation takes place.

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