Technical Note: A mobile sea-going mesocosm system – new opportunities for ocean change research
One of the great challenges in ocean change research is to understand and forecast the effects of environmental changes on pelagic communities and the associated impacts on biogeochemical cycling. Mesocosms, experimental enclosures designed to approximate natural conditions, and in which environmental factors can be manipulated and closely monitored, provide a powerful tool to close the gap between small-scale laboratory experiments and observational and correlative approaches applied in field surveys. Existing pelagic mesocosm systems are stationary and/or restricted to well-protected waters. To allow mesocosm experimentation in a range of hydrographic conditions and in areas considered most sensitive to ocean change, we developed a mobile sea-going mesocosm facility, the Kiel Off-Shore Mesocosms for Future Ocean Simulations (KOSMOS). The KOSMOS platform, which can be transported and deployed by mid-sized research vessels, is designed for operation in moored and free-floating mode under low to moderate wave conditions (up to 2.5 m wave heights). It encloses a water column 2 m in diameter and 15 to 25 m deep (∼50–75 m 3 in volume) without disrupting the vertical structure or disturbing the enclosed plankton community. Several new developments in mesocosm design and operation were implemented to (i) minimize differences in starting conditions between mesocosms, (ii) allow for extended experimental duration, (iii) precisely determine the mesocosm volume, (iv) determine air–sea gas exchange, and (v) perform mass balance calculations. After multiple test runs in the Baltic Sea, which resulted in continuous improvement of the design and handling, the KOSMOS platform successfully completed its first full-scale experiment in the high Arctic off Svalbard (78°56.2′ N, 11°53.6′ E) in June/July 2010. The study, which was conducted in the framework of the European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA), focused on the effects of ocean acidification on a natural plankton community and its impacts on biogeochemical cycling and air–sea exchange of climate-relevant gases. This manuscript describes the mesocosm hardware, its deployment and handling, CO 2 manipulation, sampling and cleaning, including some further modifications conducted based on the experiences gained during this study.