Ocean alkalinity, buffering and biogeochemical processes

J.J. Middelburg*, Karline Soetaert, Mathilde Hagens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Alkalinity, the excess of proton acceptors over donors, plays a major role in ocean chemistry, in buffering and in calcium carbonate precipitation and dissolution. Understanding alkalinity dynamics is pivotal to quantify ocean carbon dioxide uptake during times of global change. Here we review ocean alkalinity and its role in ocean buffering as well as the biogeochemical processes governing alkalinity and pH in the ocean. We show that it is important to distinguish between measurable titration alkalinity and charge balance alkalinity that is used to quantify calcification and carbonate dissolution and needed to understand the impact of biogeochemical processes on components of the carbon dioxide system. A general treatment of ocean buffering and quantification via sensitivity factors is presented and used to link existing buffer and sensitivity factors. The impact of individual biogeochemical processes on ocean alkalinity and pH is discussed and quantified using these sensitivity factors. Processes governing ocean alkalinity on longer time scales such as carbonate compensation, (reversed) silicate weathering, and anaerobic mineralization are discussed and used to derive a close‐to‐balance ocean alkalinity budget for the modern ocean.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2019RG000681
JournalReviews of Geophysics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • alkalinity
  • biogeochemistry
  • buffering
  • carbon
  • modeling


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