, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 848–865

Metabolism and organic carbon fluxes in the tidal freshwater Hudson River


    • Section of Ecology & Systematics and Center for the EnvironmentCornell University
  • R. Schneider
    • Section of Ecology & Systematics and Center for the EnvironmentCornell University
  • D. Swaney
    • Section of Ecology & Systematics and Center for the EnvironmentCornell University

DOI: 10.2307/1352302

Cite this article as:
Howarth, R.W., Schneider, R. & Swaney, D. Estuaries (1996) 19: 848. doi:10.2307/1352302


We summarize rates of metabolism and major sources and sinks of organic carbon in the 148-k long, tidally influenced, freshwater Hudson River. The river is strongly heterotrophic, with respiration exceeding gross primary production (GPP). The P:R ration averages 0.57 (defined as the ratio of GPP to total ecosystem respiration) if only the aquatic portion of the ecosystem is considered and 0.70 if the emergent marshes are also included. Gross primary production (GPP) by photoplankton averages approximately 300 g C m−2 yr−1 and is an order of magnitude greater than that by submersed macrophytes. However, the river is deep, well mixed, and turbid, and phytoplankton spend a majority of their time in the dark. As a result, respiration by living phytoplankton is extremely high and net primary production (NPP) by phytoplankton is estimated to be only some 6% of GPP. NPP by phytoplankton and submersed macrophytes are roughly equal (approximately 20 g C m−2 yr−1 each) when averaged over the river. Emergent marshes are quite productive, but probably less than 16 g C m−2 yr−1 enters the aquatic portion of the ecosystem from these marshes. Heterotrophic respiration and secondary production in the river are driven primarily by allochthonous inputs of organic matter from terrestrial sources. Rates of metabolism vary along the river, with depth being a critical controlling factor. The P:R ratio for the aquatic portion of the ecosystem varies from 1 in the mid-river to 0.2 in the deeper waters. NPP is actually negative in the downstream waters where average depths are greater since phytoplankton respiration exceeds GPP there; the positive rates of NPP occurring upriver support a downstream advection of phytoplankton to the deeper waters where this C is largely respired away by the algae themselves. This autotrophic respiration contributes significantly to oxygen depletion in the deeper waters of the Hudson. The tidally influenced freshwater Hudson largely fits the patterns predicted by the river continuum model for larger rivers. However, we suggest that the continuum model needs to more clearly distinguish between GPP and NPP and should include the importance of autotrophic respiration by phytoplankton that are advected along a river. The organic carbon budget for the tidally influenced freshwater Hudson is balanced to within a few percent. Respiration (54%) and downstream advection into the saline estuary (41%) are the major losses of organic carbon from the ecosystem. Allochthonous inputs from nonpoint sources on land (61%) and GPP by phytoplankton (28%) are the major sources to the system. Agricultural erosion is the major source of allochthonous inputs. Since agricultural land use increased dramatically in the last century, and has fallen in this century, the carbon cycle of the tidally influenced freshwater Hudson River has probably changed markedly over time. Before human disturbance, the Hudson was probably a less heterotrophic system and may even have been autotrophic, with gross primary production exceeding ecosystem respiration.

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© Estuarine Research Federation 1996