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Investigating the effect of nickel concentration on phytoplankton growth to assess potential side-effects of ocean alkalinity enhancement


Guo, JA and Strzepek, R and Willis, A and Ferderer, A and Bach, LT, Investigating the effect of nickel concentration on phytoplankton growth to assess potential side-effects of ocean alkalinity enhancement, Biogeosciences, 19 pp. 3683-3697. ISSN 1726-4170 (2022) [Refereed Article]

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Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License. (

DOI: doi:10.5194/bg-19-3683-2022


Ocean alkalinity enhancement (OAE) is a proposed method for removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere by the accelerated weathering of (ultra-)basic minerals to increase alkalinity-the chemical capacity of seawater to store CO2. During the weathering of OAE-relevant minerals relatively large amounts of trace metals will be released and may perturb pelagic ecosystems. Nickel (Ni) is of particular concern as it is abundant in olivine, one of the most widely considered minerals for OAE. However, so far there is limited knowledge about the impact of Ni on marine biota including phytoplankton. To fill this knowledge gap, this study tested the growth and photo-physiological response of 11 marine phytoplankton species to a wide range of dissolved Ni concentrations (from 0.07 to 50 000 nmol L-1). We found that the phytoplankton species were not very sensitive to Ni concentrations under the culturing conditions established in our experiments, but the responses were species-specific. The growth rates of 6 of the 11 tested species showed generally limited but still significant responses to changing Ni concentrations (36 % maximum change). Photosynthetic performance, assessed by measuring the maximum quantum yield (FV/FM) and the functional absorption cross-section (σPSII) of photosystem II (PSII), was sensitive to changing Ni in 3 out of 11 species (35 % maximum change) and 4 out of 11 species (16 % maximum change), respectively. The limited effect of Ni may be partly due to the provision of nitrate as the nitrogen source for growth as previous studies suggest higher sensitivities when urea is the nitrogen source. Furthermore, the limited influence may be due to the relatively high concentrations of synthetic organic ligands added to the growth media in our experiments. These ligands are commonly added to control trace metal bioavailability and therefore for example "free Ni2+" concentrations by binding the majority of the dissolved Ni. Our data suggest that dissolved Ni does not have a strong effect on phytoplankton under our experimental conditions, but we emphasize that a deeper understanding of nitrogen sources, ligand concentrations, and phytoplankton composition is needed when assessing the influence of Ni release associated with OAE.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:phytoplankton, nickel, ocean alkalinity enhancement, climate change mitigation
Research Division:Earth Sciences
Research Group:Oceanography
Research Field:Biological oceanography
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Marine systems and management
Objective Field:Oceanic processes (excl. in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean)
UTAS Author:Guo, JA (Miss Jiaying Guo)
UTAS Author:Strzepek, R (Dr Robert Strzepek)
UTAS Author:Ferderer, A (Mr Aaron Ferderer)
UTAS Author:Bach, LT (Dr Lennart Bach)
ID Code:152091
Year Published:2022
Web of Science® Times Cited:2
Deposited By:Australian Antarctic Program Partnership
Deposited On:2022-08-11
Last Modified:2022-11-21
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