Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 40, Issue 5, pp 1276–1287 | Cite as

Nitrogen Retention in Coastal Marine Sediments—a Field Study of the Relative Importance of Biological and Physical Removal in a Danish Estuary

  • Søren Laurentius Nielsen
  • Nils Risgaard-Petersen
  • Gary T. Banta


The aim of this study was to elucidate the relative importance of physical versus biological loss processes for the removal of microphytobenthic (MPB) bound nitrogen in a coastal environment at different times of the year via a dual isotope labeling technique. We used 51Cr, binding to inorganic sediment particles but not participating in any biological processes, and 15N–NO3, taken up by the MPB and turned over as part of the MPB nitrogen pool. Retention, down-mixing, and export of 15N were due to both biological and physical processes, so that by comparing retention of the two isotopes, we were able to discern the relative importance of physical and biological processes. The isotope marking was supplemented with measurements of sediment chlorophyll biomass and oxygen fluxes, allowing us to evaluate MPB biomass as well as primary production vs. respiration in the sediment. In spring/early summer, the system was characterized by tight N cycling and high N retention: any remineralized N was immediately taken up and retained in the MPB biomass. In late summer and autumn, the system was still physically stable, but high biological mediated N losses were observed. In early winter, the system was physically dominated due to low MPB biomasses and activity combined with a significant storm event. Our data support the hypothesis that the relative balance between physical and biological processes in determining retention and removal of MPB-bound nitrogen changes seasonally.


Benthic chlorophyll Microphytobenthos Nitrogen dynamics Nutrient cycling Sediment processes 


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Søren Laurentius Nielsen
    • 1
  • Nils Risgaard-Petersen
    • 2
  • Gary T. Banta
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Science and EnvironmentRoskilde UniversityRoskildeDenmark
  2. 2.Center for Geomicrobiology/Section for Microbiology, Department of BioscienceUniversity of AarhusAarhusDenmark

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