MEPS 155:45-54 (1997)  -  doi:10.3354/meps155045

Variations in primary production of northern Gulf of Mexico continental shelf waters linked to nutrient inputs from the Mississippi River

Lohrenz SE, Fahnenstiel GL, Redalje DG, Lang GA, Chen X, Dagg MJ

Increases in nutrient concentrations in the Mississippi River over the past 35 yr have led to speculation that primary production of organic carbon has been elevated as a result of increased nutrient fluxes that have occurred in the northern Gulf of Mexico coastal ecosystem. However, studies thus far have not provided direct demonstration of temporal relationships between measured primary production in continental shelf waters and river-borne nutrient fluxes. This investigation compared temporal variations in primary production with associated annual and interannual changes in river-borne nutrient inputs. Primary production in shelf waters near the river delta were found to be significantly correlated with nitrate (NO3-) + nitrite (NO2-) concentrations and fluxes over a 6 yr period from 1988 to 1994. Although light limitation was probably an important factor during winter months, a positive correlation was demonstrated between river inputs of NO3-+NO2- and primary production for data collected from other times of the year. Peak nutrient inputs generally occurred in the spring. The magnitude of the riverborne NO3-+NO2< SUP>- inputs averaged 106% of estimated nitrogen requirements for phytoplankton in the river-impacted region, considerably greater than in Amazon shelf waters, which have been less subject to anthropogenic nutrient increases. The possibility exists that further increases in anthropogenic nutrients in the Mississippi River could lead to higher and more widespread primary production, and this may intensify and extend the depletion of oxygen that has already been observed in the Louisiana shelf ecosystem. However, such a prediction is difficult because relationships between increasing nutrient inputs and primary production are unlikely to be linear, and a complete understanding of processes intermediate between primary production of organic matter and oxygen depletion in bottom waters on the Louisiana shelf is still lacking.


Primary production · Nutrients · Phytoplankton · Continental shelf · Hypoxia · Mississippi River · Gulf of Mexico · Eutrophication


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