, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 15-61

First online:

An assessment of the annual mass balance of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in Narragansett Bay

  • S. W. NixonAffiliated withGraduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island
  • , S. L. GrangerAffiliated withGraduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island
  • , B. L. NowickiAffiliated withGraduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island

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Narragansett Bay is a relatively well-mixed, high salinity coastal embayment and estuary complex in southern New England (USA). Much of the shoreline is urban and the watershed is densely developed. We have combined our data on C, N, and P inputs to this system, on C, N, and P accumulation in the sediments, and on denitrification with extensive work by others to develop approximate annual mass balances for these elements. The results show that primary production within the bay is the major source of organic carbon (4 times greater than other sources), that land drainage and upstream sewage and fertilizer are the major sources of N, and that landward flowing bottom water from offshore may be a major source of dissolved inorganic phosphorus. Most of the nutrients entering the bay arrive in dissolved inorganic form, though DON is a significant component of the N carried by the rivers. About 40% of the DIN in the rivers is in the form of ammonia. Sedimentation rates are low in most of Narragansett Bay, and it appears that less than 20% of the total annual input of each of these elements is retained within the system. A very small amount of C, N, and P is removed in fisheries landings, denitrification in the sediments removes perhaps 10–25% of the N input, and most of the carbon fixed in the system is respired within it. Stoichiometric calculations suggest that some 10–20% of the organic matter formed in the bay is exported to offshore and that Narragansett Bay is an autotrophic system. Most of the N and P that enters the bay is, however, exported to offshore waters in dissolved inorganic form. This assessment of the overall biogeochemical behavior of C, N, and P in the bay is consistent with more rigorously constrained mass balances obtained using large living models or mesocosms of the bay at the Marine Ecosystem Research Laboratory (MERL).

Key words

budget carbon mass balance Narragansett Bay nitrogen nutrients phosphorus