Large clean mesocosms and simulated dust deposition: A new methodology to investigate responses of marine oligotrophic ecosystems to atmospheric inputs

C. Guieu, F. Dulac, K. Desboeufs, T. Wagener, E. Pulido-Villena, J. M. Grisoni, F. Louis, C. Ridame, S. Blain, C. Brunet, E. Bon Nguyen, S. Tran, M. Labiadh, J. M. Dominici

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intense Saharan dust deposition occurs over large oligotrophic areas in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Tropical Atlantic, and its impact on the biogeochemical functioning of such oligotrophic ecosystems needs to be understood. However, due to the logistical difficulties of investigating in situ natural dust events, and due to the inherent limitations of microcosm laboratory experiments, new experimental approaches need to be developed. In this paper, we present a new experimental setup based on large, clean mesocoms deployed in the frame of the DUNE (a DUst experiment in a low-Nutrient, low-chlorophyll Ecosystem) project. We demonstrate that these tools are highly relevant and provide a powerful new strategy to in situ studies of the response of an oligotrophic ecosystem to chemical forcing by atmospheric deposition of African dust. First, we describe how to cope with the large amount of dust aerosol needed to conduct the seeding experiments by producing an analogue from soil collected in a source area and by performing subsequent appropriate physico-chemical treatments in the laboratory, including an eventual processing by simulated cloud water. The comparison of the physico-chemical characteristics of produced dust analogues with the literature confirms that our experimental simulations are representative of dust, aging during atmospheric transport, and subsequent deposition to the Mediterranean. Second, we demonstrate the feasibility in coastal areas to installing, in situ, a series of large (6 × 52 m3) mesocosms without perturbing the local ecosystem. The setup, containing no metallic parts and with the least possible induced perturbation during the sampling sequence, provides an approach for working with the required conditions for biogeochemical studies in oligotrophic environments, where nutrient and micronutrients are at nano- or subnano-molar levels. Two, distinct "seeding experiments" were conducted by deploying three mesocosms serving as controls (CONTROLS-Meso = no addition) and three mesocosms seeded with the same amount of Saharan dust (DUST-Meso = 10 gm-2 of sprayed dust). A large panel of biogeochemical parameters was measured at 0.1 m, at 5 m and 10 m in all of the mesocosms and at a selected site outside the mesocosms before seeding and at regular intervals afterward. Statistical analyses of the results show that data from three mesocosms that received the same treatment are highly reproducible (variability < 30%) and that there is no significant difference between data obtained from CONTROLS-Meso and data obtained outside the mesocosms. This paper demonstrates that the methodology developed in the DUNE project is suitable to quantifying and parameterizing the impact of atmospheric chemical forcing in a low-nutrient, low-chlorophyll (LNLC) ecosystem. Such large mesocosms can be considered as 1-D ecosystems so that the parameterization obtained from these experiments can be integrated into ecosystem models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2765-2784
Number of pages20
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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