A largely overlooked but significant factor in marine ecology concerns the effects of variable pH on the growth rate and abundance of coastal marine phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain in productive coastal waters. The pH of the open ocean varies very little. This has led to the common, but faulty, assumption that the pH of coastal waters also varies little and is unimportant.
In an article in a recent issue of the scientific journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, URI Graduate School of Oceanography marine scientist Dr. Kenneth Hinga analyzed all the available, albeit limited and scattered, studies conducted in the laboratory and in the field on the effect of pH on marine phytoplankton in coastal waters. pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity of water.
The normal pH of open ocean seawater is about 8.1, or slightly alkaline. Hinga found that the pH of seawater in typical estuaries and coastal waters routinely varies from pH 7.5 to 8.5 with occasional occurrences of pH greater than 9 or less than 7. This is significant because pH levels routinely found in our coastal waters affect the growth rates of many species. At the more extreme pH values, some species cannot grow at all and only species with a tolerance for high or low pH would grow, eventually dominating the community.
Lisa Cugini | University of Rhode Island
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