Environmental Management

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 539–553

Eutrophication of Buttermilk Bay, a cape cod coastal embayment: Concentrations of nutrients and watershed nutrient budgets

  • Ivan Valiela
  • Joseph E. Costa

DOI: 10.1007/BF01873266

Cite this article as:
Valiela, I. & Costa, J.E. Environmental Management (1988) 12: 539. doi:10.1007/BF01873266


Nutrient concentrations in Buttermilk Bay, a coastal embayment on the northern end of Buzzards Bay, MA, are higher in the nearshore where salinities are lower. This pattern suggests that freshwater sources may contribute significantly to nutrient inputs into Buttermilk Bay. To evaluate the relative importance of the various sources we estimated inputs of nutrients by each major source into the watershed and into the bay itself. Septic systems contributed about 40% of the nitrogen and phosphorus entering the watershed, with precipitation and fertilizer use adding the remainder. Groundwater transported over 85% of the nitrogen and 75% of the phosphorus entering the bay. Most nutrients entering the watershed failed to reach the bay; uptake by forests, soils, denitrification, and adsorption intercepted two-thirds of the nitrogen and nine-tenths of the phosphorus that entered the watershed. The nutrients that did reach the bay most likely originated from subsoil injections into groundwater by septic tanks, plus some leaching of fertilizers.

Buttermilk Bay water has relatively low nutrient concentrations, probably because of uptake of nutrients by macrophytes and because of relatively rapid tidal flushing. Annual budgets of nutrients entering the watershed showed a low nitrogen-to-phosphorus ratio of 6, but passage of nutrients through the watershed raised N/P to 23, probably because of adsorption of PO4 during transit. The N/P ratio of water that leaves the watershed and presumably enters the bay is probably high enough to maintain active growth of nitrogenlimited coastal producers. There is a seasonal shift in N/P in the water column of Buttermilk Bay. N/P exceeded the 16∶1 Redfield ratio during midwinter; the remainder of the year N/P fell below 16∶1. This suggests that annual budgets do not provide sufficiently detailed data with which to interpret nutrient-limitation of producers. Further, some idea of water turnover is also needed to evaluate impact of loading rates. Urbanization of watersheds seems to increase loadings to nearshore environments, and to shift the nutrient loadings delivered to coastal waters to relatively high N-to-P ratios, potentially stimulating growth of nitrogen-limited primary producers.

Key words

Coastal embayments Eutrophication Nitrogen Phosphorus Coastal lagoons Groundwater Septic tanks Nutrient loading 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. New York Inc. 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ivan Valiela
    • 1
  • Joseph E. Costa
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Biological LaboratoryBoston University Marine ProgramWoods HoleUSA