, Volume 111, Issue 1, pp 111-124

First online:

Net sediment N2 fluxes in a southern New England estuary: variations in space and time

  • Robinson W. FulweilerAffiliated withEarth Sciences Department, Boston University Email author 
  • , Scott W. NixonAffiliated withGraduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island

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Over the past three decades, Narragansett Bay has undergone various ecological changes, including significant decreases in water column chlorophyll a concentrations, benthic oxygen uptake, and benthic nutrient regeneration rates. To add to this portrait of change, we measured the net flux of N2 across the sediment–water interface over an annual cycle using the N2/Ar technique at seven sites in the bay for comparison with measurements made decades ago. Net denitrification rates ranged from about 10–90 μmol N2–N m−2 h−1 over the year. Denitrification rates were not significantly different among sites and had no clear correlation with temperature. Net nitrogen fixation (−5 to −650 μmol N2–N m−2 h−1) was measured at three sites and only observed in summer (June–August). Neither denitrification nor nitrogen fixation exhibited a consistent relationship with sediment oxygen demand or with fluxes of nitrite, nitrate, ammonium, total dissolved inorganic nitrogen, or dissolved inorganic phosphate across all stations. In contrast to the mid-bay historical site where denitrification rates have declined, denitrification rates in the Providence River Estuary have not changed significantly over the past 30 years.


Sediment N2 flux Climate change N2/Ar technique Denitrification Nitrogen fixation Narragansett Bay