Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 1377–1390 | Cite as

Spatial and Temporal Variability of Benthic Oxygen Demand and Nutrient Regeneration in an Anthropogenically Impacted New England Estuary

  • Robinson W. Fulweiler
  • Scott W. Nixon
  • Betty A. Buckley


Strong benthic–pelagic coupling is an important characteristic of shallow coastal marine ecosystems. Building upon a rich history of benthic metabolism data, we measured oxygen uptake and nutrient fluxes across the sediment–water interface along a gradient of water column primary production in Narragansett Bay, RI (USA). Despite the strong gradients seen in water column production, sediment oxygen demand (SOD) and benthic nutrient fluxes did not exhibit a clear spatial pattern. Some of our sites had been studied in the 1970s and 1980s and thus allowed historical comparison. At these sites, we found that SOD and benthic fluxes have not changed uniformly throughout Narragansett Bay. In the uppermost portion of the bay, the Providence River Estuary, we observed a significant decrease in dissolved inorganic phosphorus fluxes which we attribute to management interventions. At another upper bay site, we observed significant declines in SOD and dissolved inorganic nitrogen fluxes which may be linked to climate-induced decreases in water column primary production and shifts in bloom phenology. In the 1970s, benthic nutrient regeneration supplied 50% to over 200% of the N and P needed to support primary production by phytoplankton. Summer nutrient regeneration in the Providence River Estuary and Upper bay now may only supply some 5–30% of the N and 3–20% of the P phytoplankton demand.


Benthic–pelagic coupling Benthic nutrient fluxes Climate change Eutrophication Narragansett Bay 



This material is based upon work supported by the RI Sea Grant College Program (NOAA), the RI Coastal Resource Management Council, the NOAA Coastal Hypoxia Research Program (CHRP), and the Switzer Foundation. We acknowledge and appreciate the assistance of J. Cornwell, M. Owens, and J. Seabrease of the University of Maryland and Rex Tien of the US EPA Atlantic Ecology Laboratory. This manuscript was improved with helpful comments from A. Giblin, C. Oviatt, A. Gold, and P. Groffman and two anonymous reviewers. For field assistance, we thank S. Granger, P. DiMilla, K. Hanks, K. Henry, M. Horn, J. Krumholz, C. Mueller, A. Oczkowski, A. Pimenta, M. Traber, and N. Hovey. Many thanks to Amy van Keuren for her help in sediment chlorophyll analysis and to Luke Cole for the map.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robinson W. Fulweiler
    • 1
  • Scott W. Nixon
    • 2
  • Betty A. Buckley
    • 3
  1. 1.Earth Sciences, DepartmentBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Graduate School of OceanographyUniversity of Rhode IslandNarragansettUSA
  3. 3.Graduate School of OceanographyUniversity of Rhode IslandNarragansettUSA

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