Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 448–470 | Cite as

Phytoplankton Patterns in Massachusetts Bay—1992–2007

  • Carlton D. Hunt
  • David G. Borkman
  • P. Scott Libby
  • Richard Lacouture
  • Jefferson T. Turner
  • Michael J. Mickelson


The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) conducts a comprehensive multidisciplinary monitoring program in Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod Bay, and Boston Harbor to assess the environmental effects of a relocated secondary-treated effluent outfall. Through 2007, 8.7 years of baseline data and 7.3 years of postdiversion data (16 total years), including species level estimates of phytoplankton and zooplankton abundance, have been collected. MWRA’s monitoring program and other studies make this region one of the most thoroughly studied and well-described marine systems in the world. The data show that the diversion of MWRA effluent from the harbor to the bay has decreased nutrients concentrations and improved water quality in the harbor (e.g., higher dissolved oxygen, lower chlorophyll). The diversion also resulted in an increase in dissolved inorganic nutrients (especially ammonium) in the vicinity of the bay outfall, but no obvious impacts such as increased biomass or decreased bottom water dissolved oxygen have been observed. Regional changes in phytoplankton and zooplankton unrelated to the diversion have been seen, and it is clear that the bays are closely connected both physically and ecologically with the greater Gulf of Maine. Direct responses to modifications of the nutrient field within a 10 × 10-km area centered near the midpoint of the 2-km long outfall diffuser in Massachusetts Bay (a.k.a. the nearfield) have not been seen in the plankton community. However, plankton variability in the bays has been linked to large regional to hemispheric scale (NAO) processes.


Massachusetts Bay Boston Harbor NAO Temporal and spatial trends Phytoplankton Zooplankton Chlorophyll Outfall Ceratium Phaeocystis Phytoplankton time series 



We thank the field scientists from Battelle, MWRA, and MWRA HOM2 contract team for their dedication and commitment to excellence in conducting the MWRA water quality surveys in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays. They have performed with distinction under both ideal and challenging weather conditions. Without them, this paper would not be possible. Laboratory scientists from Battelle, the University of Rhode Island, and MWRA are also thanked for their conduct of the nutrient analysis under the HOM study series. Rocky Geyer’s input on the physics of Massachusetts Bay is gratefully acknowledged. One author (DB) acknowledges the support provided by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program (Grant RD83244301).


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlton D. Hunt
    • 1
  • David G. Borkman
    • 2
  • P. Scott Libby
    • 1
  • Richard Lacouture
    • 3
  • Jefferson T. Turner
    • 4
  • Michael J. Mickelson
    • 5
  1. 1.BattelleDuxburyUSA
  2. 2.Graduate School of OceanographyUniversity of Rhode IslandNarragansettUSA
  3. 3.Estuarine Research CenterMorgan State UniversitySt. LeonardUSA
  4. 4.Biology Department and School for Marine Science and TechnologyUniversity of Massachusetts DartmouthNorth DartmouthUSA
  5. 5.Massachusetts Water Resources AuthorityBostonUSA

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