MEPS 141:229-245 (1996)  -  doi:10.3354/meps141229

Seasonal and interannual patterns of sediment-water nutrient and oxygen fluxes in Mobile Bay, Alabama (USA): regulating factors and ecological significance

Cowan JLW, Pennock JR, Boynton WR

Sediment oxygen and nutrient fluxes were measured monthly for 2 yr in Mobile Bay, Alabama, USA. Rates of sediment oxygen consumption (0.1 to 1.25 gO2 m-2 d-1), ammonium flux (-22 to 181 µmol m-2 h-1), nitrate flux (-14 to 67 µmol m-2 h-1), phosphate flux (-2 to 20.4 µmol m-2 h-1), and dissolved silicate flux (-15 to 342 µmol m-2 h-1) were moderate to high compared to values for other estuaries. A step-wise regression analysis revealed that dissolved oxygen concentration and temperature in bottom-waters explained much of the variance in fluxes. This is presumably because of their influence on rates of microbial and physico-chemical processes. Organic matter availability was not found to be an important factor in regulating temporal (month to month) variability of fluxes, possibly because frequent resuspension of the sediments in this shallow system rendered indices of sediment organic matter nearly constant with time. However, warm season-averaged sediment nutrient releases were correlated with sediment chlorophyll a. This relationship in Mobile Bay is in strong agreement with similar relationships found in other estuarine systems, and suggests that the availability of labile organic matter ultimately regulates the maximum rate of nutrient release by the sediments. Annually averaged sediment fluxes supplied 36% of the nitrogen (N) and 25% of the phosphorus (P) required by phytoplankton in Mobile Bay. While this is not particularly high compared to other estuaries, monthly estimates show that the sediments can supply from 0 to 94% of the N, and 0 to 83% of the P required by phytoplankton. In addition, flux ratios show that N and P are released from sediments at N:P ratios that rapidly switch from above (maximum 98) to below (minimum 1.2) that required for phytoplankton growth. This pattern is different from cooler temperate systems, where such switching is seasonally based.


Sediment-water fluxes · Mobile Bay · Nutrient regeneration


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