Spatial and Temporal Variability of Benthic Oxygen Demand and Nutrient Regeneration in an Anthropogenically Impacted New England Estuary

Research paper by Robinson W. Fulweiler, Scott W. Nixon, Betty A. Buckley

Indexed on: 02 Feb '10Published on: 02 Feb '10Published in: Estuaries and coasts : journal of the Estuarine Research Federation


Strong benthic–pelagic coupling is an important characteristic of shallow coastal marine ecosystems. Building upon a rich history of benthic metabolism data, we measured oxygen uptake and nutrient fluxes across the sediment–water interface along a gradient of water column primary production in Narragansett Bay, RI (USA). Despite the strong gradients seen in water column production, sediment oxygen demand (SOD) and benthic nutrient fluxes did not exhibit a clear spatial pattern. Some of our sites had been studied in the 1970s and 1980s and thus allowed historical comparison. At these sites, we found that SOD and benthic fluxes have not changed uniformly throughout Narragansett Bay. In the uppermost portion of the bay, the Providence River Estuary, we observed a significant decrease in dissolved inorganic phosphorus fluxes which we attribute to management interventions. At another upper bay site, we observed significant declines in SOD and dissolved inorganic nitrogen fluxes which may be linked to climate-induced decreases in water column primary production and shifts in bloom phenology. In the 1970s, benthic nutrient regeneration supplied 50% to over 200% of the N and P needed to support primary production by phytoplankton. Summer nutrient regeneration in the Providence River Estuary and Upper bay now may only supply some 5–30% of the N and 3–20% of the P phytoplankton demand.