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Impact of shallow‐water hydrothermal seepage on benthic biogeochemical cycling, nutrient availability, and meiobenthic communities in a tropical coral reef

  • Lichtschlag, Anna
  • Braeckman, Ulrike
  • Guilini, Katja
  • Ahmerkamp, Soeren
  • James, Rachael H.
  • de Beer, Dirk
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2022
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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We investigated the influence of high-CO2 hydrothermal seepage on element cycling, early diagenetic processes, and meiobenthic communities in sediments of a coral reef in Papua New Guinea. Based on fluid flow velocities, determined from temperature gradients, and element concentrations, the solute fluxes from the seeps were estimated, showing that seepage through sediments can be a source of nutrients but also of potentially toxic elements to the reef ecosystem. The sediment pore waters consisted of up to 36% hydrothermal fluids, enriched in As, Si, Li, Mn, Fe, Rb, and Cs relative to ambient seawater. During their ascent to the seabed, the acidic fluids reacted with the sediments, leading to increases in total alkalinity, nutrients, and alkali elements in the fluids. Mixing of hydrothermal fluids with seawater within the sediments lead to precipitation of redox-reactive species, including Fe-oxides, but the sediment pore waters were still a source of trace metals to the water column. Presence of the low-pH fluids in the sediments resulted in dissolution of sedimentary carbonates and left behind finer-grained volcanoclastic sands containing As, Cr, and Ni in concentrations toxic to biota. These finer-grained sediments had a reduced permeability, reducing the rate of remineralization of organic matter. Benthic meiofauna and nematode abundance and functional diversity were relatively lower at sites with hydrothermal seepage through the sediment. As benthic and pelagic processes are tightly coupled, it is likely that the changes in benthic biogeochemical processes due to sediment acidification will also affect epibenthic and pelagic communities.

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