Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 37, Supplement 1, pp 46–62 | Cite as

Impacts of Climate-Related Drivers on the Benthic Nutrient Filter in a Shallow Photic Estuary

  • Iris C. AndersonEmail author
  • Mark J. Brush
  • Michael F. Piehler
  • Carolyn A. Currin
  • Jennifer W. Stanhope
  • Ashley R. Smyth
  • Johnathan D. Maxey
  • Meaghan L. Whitehead


In shallow photic systems, the benthic filter, including microphytobenthos and denitrifiers, is important in preventing or reducing release of remineralized NH4 + to the water column. Its effectiveness can be impacted by climate-related drivers, including temperature and storminess, which by increasing wind and freshwater delivery can resuspend sediment, reduce salinity and deliver nutrients, total suspended solids, and chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) to coastal systems. Increases in temperature and freshwater delivery may initiate a cascade of responses affecting benthic metabolism with impacts on sediment properties, which in turn regulate nitrogen cycling processes that either sequester (via microphytobenthos), remove (via denitrification), or increase sediment nitrogen (via remineralization, nitrogen fixation, and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium). We conducted a seasonal study at shallow stations to assess the effects of freshwater inflow, temperature, wind, light, and CDOM on sediment properties, benthic metabolism, nitrogen cycling processes, and the effectiveness of the benthic filter. We also conducted a depth study to constrain seasonally varying parameters such as temperature to better assess the effects of light availability and water depth on benthic processes. Based on relationships observed between climatic drivers and response variables, we predict a reduction in the effectiveness of the benthic filter over the long term with feedbacks that will increase effluxes of N to the water column with the potential to contribute to system eutrophication. This may push shallow systems past a tipping point where trophic status moves from net autotrophy toward net heterotrophy, with new baselines characterized by degraded water quality.


Shallow photic estuary Benthic filter Climate Microphytobenthos Benthic metabolism Remineralization Nitrogen fixation Denitrification 



This work would not have been possible without the assistance of H. Walker, S. Lake, J. Giordano, H. Wiseman, A. Hardison, K. Stark, B. Lawson, L. Ott, and G. Secrist of VIMS; A. Hilting, M. Greene, J. Wernly, P. Delano, and L. Cowart of NOAA; and R. Swartz of UNC-IMS. We are also thankful to S. Cohen of NAVFAC and the Camp Lejeune Environmental Management Division staff. Funding for this research was provided by the Strategic Environmental Research and Developmental Program—Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program Project SI-1413 and National Science Foundation Projects DEB-0542645 and DGE-0840804. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the policies or opinions of the US Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, NOAA, or associated services. This paper is Contribution No. 3289 of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William and Mary.

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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iris C. Anderson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mark J. Brush
    • 1
  • Michael F. Piehler
    • 2
  • Carolyn A. Currin
    • 3
  • Jennifer W. Stanhope
    • 1
  • Ashley R. Smyth
    • 2
  • Johnathan D. Maxey
    • 1
  • Meaghan L. Whitehead
    • 1
  1. 1.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceCollege of William & MaryGloucester PointUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Marine SciencesThe University of North CarolinaMorehead CityUSA
  3. 3.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, National Centers for Coastal and Ocean ScienceBeaufortUSA

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