Spatial and seasonal patterns in water quality in an embayment-mainstem reach of the tidal freshwater Potomac River, USA: a multiyear study
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Spatial and temporal patterns in water quality were studied for seven years within an embayment-river mainstem area of the tidal freshwater Potomac River. The purpose of this paper is to determine the important components of spatial and temporal variation in water quality in this study area to facilitate an understanding of management impacts and allow the most effective use of future monitoring resources. The study area received treated sewage effluent and freshwater inflow from direct tributary inputs into the shallow embayment as well as upriver sources in the mainstem. Depth variations were determined to be detectable, but minimal due mainly to the influence of tidal mixing. Results of principal component analysis of two independent water quality datasets revealed clear spatial and seasonal patterns. Interannual variation was generally minimal despite substantial variations in tributary and mainstem discharge among years. Since both spatial and seasonal components were important, data were segmented by season to best determine the spatial pattern. A clear difference was found between a set of stations located within one embayment (Gunston Cove) and a second set in the nearby Potomac mainstem. Parameters most highly correlated with differences were those typically associated with higher densities of phytoplankton: chlorophyll a, photosynthetic rate, pH, dissolved oxygen, BOD, total phosphorus and Secchi depth. These differences and their consistency indicated two distinct water masses: one in the cove harboring higher algal density and activity and a second in the river with lower phytoplankton activity. A second embayment not receiving sewage effluent generally had an intermediate position. While this was the most consistent spatial pattern, there were two others of a secondary nature. Stations closer to the effluent inputs in the embayment sometimes grouped separately due to elevated ammonia and chloride. Stations closer to tributary inflows into the embayment sometimes grouped separately due to dilution with freshwater runoff. Segmenting the datasets by spatial region resulted in a clarification of seasonal patterns with similar factors relating to algal activity being the major correlates of the seasonal pattern. A basic seasonal pattern of lower scores in the spring increasing steadily to a peak in July and August followed by a steady decline through the fall was observed in the cove. In the river, the pattern of increases tended to be delayed slightly in the spring. Results indicate that the study area can be effectively monitored with fewer study sites provided that at least one is located in each of the spatial regions.
KeywordsBOD Chlorophyll a Interannual Nitrogen Phosphorus Multivariate Seasonal Secchi depth Spatial Water quality
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