Biogeochemical Zones Within a Macrotidal, Dry-Tropical Fluvial-Marine Transition Area: A Dry-Season Perspective
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The Fitzroy River delivers large amounts of nutrients and fine sediments to Keppel Bay (contiguous with the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon) during intermittent flow events. This study explores sources, forms and transformations of nutrients in Keppel Bay, and develops a functional process zonation that integrates seabed geochemistry and water column nutrient characteristics which are controlled by suspended sediment. The water column and seabed properties were investigated over two dry seasons, with supplementary core incubations taken to measure carbon decomposition rates and nutrient fluxes. Keppel Bay can be divided into three zones, the: zone of maximum resuspension (ZMR); coastal transitional zone (CTZ); and blue water zone (BWZ). Mineralisation of predominantly terrestrial organic matter occurs in the ZMR where nutrient uptake by phytoplankton is light limited. The CTZ and BWZ had higher light penetration and phytoplankton growth was likely limited by N and P, respectively. The identified zones conform to the bathymetry and hydrodynamic characteristics of the bay, allowing for the development of an integrated conceptual model accounting for the benthic and pelagic biogeochemical processes. Recognition of these different zones shows that considerable variation in benthic and water column properties is possible within a small system with the bathymetric and hydrodynamic characteristics of the fluidized bed reactor.