, Volume 111, Issue 1–3, pp 111–124 | Cite as

Net sediment N2 fluxes in a southern New England estuary: variations in space and time



Over the past three decades, Narragansett Bay has undergone various ecological changes, including significant decreases in water column chlorophyll a concentrations, benthic oxygen uptake, and benthic nutrient regeneration rates. To add to this portrait of change, we measured the net flux of N2 across the sediment–water interface over an annual cycle using the N2/Ar technique at seven sites in the bay for comparison with measurements made decades ago. Net denitrification rates ranged from about 10–90 μmol N2–N m−2 h−1 over the year. Denitrification rates were not significantly different among sites and had no clear correlation with temperature. Net nitrogen fixation (−5 to −650 μmol N2–N m−2 h−1) was measured at three sites and only observed in summer (June–August). Neither denitrification nor nitrogen fixation exhibited a consistent relationship with sediment oxygen demand or with fluxes of nitrite, nitrate, ammonium, total dissolved inorganic nitrogen, or dissolved inorganic phosphate across all stations. In contrast to the mid-bay historical site where denitrification rates have declined, denitrification rates in the Providence River Estuary have not changed significantly over the past 30 years.


Sediment N2 flux Climate change N2/Ar technique Denitrification Nitrogen fixation Narragansett Bay 


  1. Bartoli M, Nizzoli D, Viaroli P (2003) Microphytobenthos activity and fluxes at the sediment-water interface: interactions and spatial variability. Aquat Ecol 37:341–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boyd PW, Strzepek R, Fu FX, Hutchins DA (2010) Environmental control of open-ocean phytoplankton groups: now and in the future. Limnol Oceanogr 55:1353–1376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boynton WR, Kemp WM (1985) Nutrient regeneration and oxygen-consumption by sediments along an estuarine salinity gradient. Mar Ecol-Prog Ser 23:45–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Burdige DJ, Zheng SL (1998) The biogeochemical cycling of dissolved organic nitrogen in estuarine sediments. Limnol Oceanogr 43:1796–1813Google Scholar
  5. Cabrita MT, Brotas V (2000) Seasonal variation in denitrification and dissolved nitrogen fluxes in intertidal sediments of the Tagus estuary, Portugal. Mar Ecol-Prog Ser 202:51–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caffrey JM, Cloern JE, Grenz C (1998) Changes in production and respiration during a spring phytoplankton bloom in San Francisco Bay, California, USA: implications for net ecosystem metabolism. Mar Ecol-Prog Ser 172:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Capone DG (2001) Marine nitrogen fixation: what’s the fuss? Curr Opin Microbiol 4:341–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carrit DE, Carpenter JH (1966) Recommendation procedure for Winkler analyses of sea water for dissolved oxygen. J Mar Res 24:313–318Google Scholar
  9. Chapin DM, Bliss LC, Bledsoe LJ (1991) Environmental-regulation of nitrogen-fixation in a high arctic lowland ecosystem. Can J Bot-Revue Canadienne De Botanique 69:2744–2755CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Colt J (1984) Computation of dissolved gas concentrations in water as functions of temperature, salinity, and pressureGoogle Scholar
  11. Cornwell JC, Kemp WM, Kana TM (1999) Denitrification in coastal ecosystems: methods, environmental controls, and ecosystem level controls: a review. Aquat Ecol 33:41–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cowan JLW, Boynton WR (1996) Sediment-water oxygen and nutrient exchanges along the longitudinal axis of Chesapeake Bay: seasonal patterns, controlling factors and ecological significance. Estuaries 19:562–580CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Coyer JA, CabelloPasini A, Swift H, Alberte RS (1996) N-2 fixation in marine heterotrophic bacteria: dynamics of environmental and molecular regulation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 93:3575–3580CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davis CS, McGillicuddy DJ (2006) Transatlantic abundance of the N-2-fixing colonial cyanobacterium Trichodesmium. Science 312:1517–1520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DiMilla PA, Nixon SW, Oczkowski AJ, Altabet MA, McKinney RA (2011) Some challenges of an “upside down” nitrogen budget: science and management in Greenwich Bay, RI (USA). Mar Pollut Bull 62:672–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Duarte CM, Conley DJ, Carstensen J, Sánchez-Camacho M (2009) Return to Neverland: shifting baselines affect eutrophication restoration targets. Estuaries and Coasts 32:29–36Google Scholar
  17. Elderfield H, Luedtke N, Mccaffrey RJ, Bender M (1981) Benthic flux studies in Narragansett Bay. Am J Sci 281:768–787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eyre BD, Rysgaard S, Dalsgaard T, Christensen PB (2002) Comparison of isotope pairing and N-2: Ar methods for measuring sediment-denitrification-assumptions, modifications, and implications. Estuaries 25:1077–1087CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Eyre BD, Rysgaard S, Dalsgaard T, Christensen PB (2004) Reply to comment on “Comparison of isotope pairing and N-2: Ar methods for measuring sediment denitrification”. Estuaries 27:177–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ferguson AJP, Eyre BD (2010) Carbon and nitrogen cycling in a shallow productive sub-tropical coastal embayment (Western Moreton Bay, Australia): the importance of pelagic-benthic coupling. Ecosystems 13:1127–1144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fulweiler RW, Nixon SW (2009) Responses of benthic-pelagic coupling to climate change in a temperate estuary. Hydrobiologia 629:147–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fulweiler RW, Nixon SW, Buckley BA, Granger SL (2007) Reversal of the net dinitrogen gas flux in coastal marine sediments. Nature 448:180–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fulweiler RW, Nixon SW, Buckley BA, Granger SL (2008) Net sediment N-2 Fluxes in a coastal marine system-experimental manipulations and a conceptual model. Ecosystems 11:1168–1180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fulweiler RW, Nixon SW, Buckley BA (2010) Spatial and temporal variability of benthic oxygen demand and nutrient regeneration in an anthropogenically impacted New England Estuary. Estuar Coasts 33:1377–1390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Galloway JN, Aber JD, Erisman JW, Seitzinger SP, Howarth RW, Cowling EB, Cosby BJ (2003) The nitrogen cascade. Bioscience 53:341–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gardner WS, McCarthy MJ, An SM, Sobolev D, Sell KS, Brock D (2006) Nitrogen fixation and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) support nitrogen dynamics in Texas estuaries. Limnol Oceanogr 51:558–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Granger S, Brush M, Buckley B, Traber M, Richardson M, Nixon SW (2000) An assessment of eutrophication in Greenwich Bay. Paper No. 1. In: M. Schwartz (ed) Restoring Water Quality in Greenwich Bay: a whitepaper series. Rhode Island Sea Grant, Narragansett, RI, p 20.
  28. Grasshoff K (1976) Methods of seawater analysis, 2nd edn. Weinheim, ChemieGoogle Scholar
  29. Groffman PM, Altabet MA, Bohlke JK, Butterbach-Bahl K, David MB, Firestone MK, Giblin AE, Kana TM, Nielsen LP, Voytek MA (2006) Methods for measuring denitrification: diverse approaches to a difficult problem. Ecol Appl 16:2091–2122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hale S (1975) The role of benthic communities in the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles of an estuary. In: Howell F, Gentry J, Smith M (eds) Mineral cycling in southeastern ecosystems. Nat Tech Inf Ser, US DOC, Springfield, pp 291–308Google Scholar
  31. Howarth RW, Marino R, Cole JJ (1988a) Nitrogen-fixation in fresh-water, estuarine, and marine ecosystems 2. Biogeochemical controls. Limnol Oceanogr 33:688–701CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Howarth RW, Marino R, Lane J, Cole JJ (1988b) Nitrogen-fixation in fresh-water, estuarine, and marine ecosystems 1. Rates and importance. Limnol Oceanogr 33:669–687CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Howarth R, Chan F, Conley DJ, Garnier J, Doney SC, Marino R, Billen G (2011) Coupled biogeochemical cycles: eutrophication and hypoxia in temperate estuaries and coastal marine ecosystems. Front Ecol Environ 9:18–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jenkins MC, Kemp WM (1984) The coupling of nitrification and denitrification in 2 estuarine sediments. Limnol Oceanogr 29:609–619CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jorgensen KS (1989) Annual Pattern of denitrification and nitrate ammonification in estuarine sediment. Appl Environ Microbiol 55:1841–1847Google Scholar
  36. Kana TM, Darkangelo C, Hunt MD, Oldham JB, Bennett GE, Cornwell JC (1994) Membrane inlet mass-spectrometer for rapid high-precision determination of N-2, O-2, and ar in environmental water samples. Anal Chem 66:4166–4170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kana TM, Sullivan MB, Cornwell JC, Groszkowski KM (1998) Denitrification in estuarine sediments determined by membrane inlet mass spectrometry. Limnol Oceanogr 43:334–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kemp WM, Boynton WR, Adolf JE, Boesch DF, Boicourt WC, Brush G, Cornwell JC, Fisher TR, Glibert PM, Hagy JD, Harding LW, Houde ED, Kimmel DG, Miller WD, Newell RIE, Roman MR, Smith EM, Stevenson JC (2005) Eutrophication of Chesapeake Bay: historical trends and ecological interactions. Mar Ecol-Prog Ser 303:1–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kremer JN, Nixon SW (1978) A coastal marine ecosystem: simulation and analysis. Springer, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Laursen AE, Seitzinger SP (2002) The role of denitrification in nitrogen removal and carbon mineralization in Mid-Atlantic Bight sediments. Cont Shelf Res 22:1397–1416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Li L, Yao X, Sun CH, Du AJ, Cheng LN, Zhu ZH, Yu CZ, Zou J, Smith SC, Wang P, Cheng HM, Frost RL, Lu GQM (2009) Lithium-catalyzed dehydrogenation of ammonia borane within mesoporous carbon framework for chemical hydrogen storage. Adv Funct Mater 19:265–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Marcarelli AM, Wurtsbaugh WA (2006) Temperature and nutrient supply interact to control nitrogen fixation in oligotrophic streams: an experimental examination. Limnol Oceanogr 51:2278–2289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Morlock S, Taylor D, Giblin A, Hopkinson C, Tucker J (1997) Effect of salinity on the fate of inorganic nitrogen in sediments of the Parker river estuary, Massachusetts. Biol Bull 193:290–292Google Scholar
  44. Murray DW, Prell WL, Rincon CE, Saarman E (2007) Physical properties and chemical characteristics of surface sediment grab samples from Narragansett Bay and the Providence and Seekonk Rivers, a summary of the Brown University Narragansett Bay Sediment Project (BUNBSP).
  45. Nixon SW (1995) Coastal marine eutrophication: a definition, social causes, and future concerns. Ophelia 41:199–219Google Scholar
  46. Nixon SW, Fulweiler RW (2009) Nutrient pollution, eutrophication, and the degradation of coastal marine ecosystems. In: Duarte CM (ed) Global loss of coastal habitats: rates, causes and consequences. Fundacion BBVA, BilbaoGoogle Scholar
  47. Nixon SW, Oviatta CA, Hale S (1976) Nitrogen regeneration and the metabolism of coastal bottom communities. In: Anderson JM, Macfayden A (eds) The role of terrestrial and aquatic organisms in decomposition processes. Blackwell Scientific Publications, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  48. Nixon SW, Kelly J, Furnas B, Oviatt C, Hale S (1980) Phosphorus regeneration and the metabolism of coastal marine bottom communities. In: Tenore KR, Coull BC (eds) Marine benthic dynamics. Univ. of South Carolina Press, Columbia, pp 219–242Google Scholar
  49. Nixon S, Nowicki B, Buckley B (1990a) Report the the Narragansett Bay project on the measurement of sediment oxygen demand in the Providence River, NarragansettGoogle Scholar
  50. Nixon S, Nowicki B, Buckley B (1990b) Report to the Narragansett Bay Project on the measurement of nutrient flux data obtained from incubations of the Providence River benthos, Rhode Island Sea Grant, NarragansettGoogle Scholar
  51. Nixon SW, Granger SL, Nowicki BL (1995) An assessment of the annual mass balance of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in Narragansett Bay. Biogeochemistry 31:15–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nixon SX, Granger S, Buckley BA, Lamont M, Rowell B (2004) A one hundred and seventeen year coastal water temperature record from Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Estuaries 27:397–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Nixon SW, Granger SL, Buckley BA, Harris L, Oczkowski A, Cole L, Fulweiler RW (2005) Anthropogenic nutrients to Narragansett Bay: a twenty-five year perspective: a report to the Narragansett Bay Commission and Rhode Island Sea GrantGoogle Scholar
  54. Nixon S, Buckley B, Granger S, Harris L, Oczkowski A, Fulweiler R, Cole L (2008) Nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to Narragansett Bay: past, present, and future. In: Desbonnet A, Costa-Pierce B (eds) Science for ecosystem-based management, Narragansett Bay in the 21st Century. Springer, New York, pp 101–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Nixon SW, Fulweiler RW, Buckley BA, Granger SL, Nowicki BL, Henry KM (2009) The impact of changing climate on phenology, productivity, and benthic-pelagic coupling in Narragansett Bay. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 82:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nowicki BL (1994) The effect of temperature, oxygen, salinity, and nutrient enrichment on estuarine denitrification rates measured with a modified nitrogen gas flux technique. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 38:137–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nowicki BL, Oviatt CA (1990) Are estuaries traps for anthropogenic nutrients: evidence from estuarine mesocosms. Marine Ecology-Progress Series 66:131–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Oakley BA, Boothyroyd JC (2006) Benthic geologic habitats of Greenwich Bay, R.I. Geological Society of America, p 11Google Scholar
  59. Oviatt CA (2004) The changing ecology of temperate coastal waters during a warming trend. Estuaries 27:895–904CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Oviatt C, Keller A, Reed L (2002) Annual primary production in Narragansett Bay with no bay-wide winter-spring phytoplankton bloom. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 54:1013–1026CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Paerl HW, Carlton RG (1988) Control of nitrogen-fixation by oxygen depletion in surface-associated microzones. Nature 332:260–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Paerl HW, Valdes LM, Pinckney JL, Piehler MF, Dyble J, Moisander PH (2003) Phytoplankton photopigments as indicators of estuarine and coastal eutrophication. Bioscience 53:953–964CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Piehler MF, Smyth AR (2011) Habitat-specific distinctions in estuarine denitrification affect both ecosystem function and services. Ecosphere 2:1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pilson MEQ (1985) On the residence time of water in Narragansett Bay. Estuaries 8:2–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Pinckney JL, Richardson TL, Millie DF, Paerl HW (2001) Application of photopigment biomarkers for quantifying microalgal community composition and in situ growth rates. Org Geochem 32:585–595CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Postgate JR (1982) Biological nitrogen-fixation: fundamentals. Philos Trans R Soc London Ser B-Biol Sci 296:375–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Postgate JR, Elmerich C, Sprent J, Kennedy C, Johnston AWB, Nutman PS, Stouthamer AH, Eady RR, Witty J, Newton WE, Pickett C, Thorneley RNF, Leigh JG, Hill S, Becking J (1987) A century of nitrogen-fixation research: present status and future-prospects; general discussion. Philos Trans R Soc London Ser B-Biol Sci 317:291–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Propp MV, Tarasoff VG, Cherbadi I, Lootzkik NK (1980) Benthic pelagic oxygen and nutrient exchange in a coastal region of the Sea of Japan. In: Tenore KR, Coull BC (eds) Marine benthic dynamics. Univ. of South Carolina Press, ColumbiaGoogle Scholar
  69. Risgaard-Petersen N (2003) Coupled nitrification-denitrification in autotrophic and heterotrophic estuarine sediments: on the influence of benthic microalgae. Limnol Oceanogr 48:93–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Ryther JH, Dunstan WM (1971) Nitrogen, phosphorus, and eutrophication in the coastal marine environment. Science 171:1008–1013CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Scott JT, McCarthy MJ (2010) Nitrogen fixation may not balance the nitrogen pool in lakes over timescales relevant to eutrophication management. Limnol Oceanogr 55:1265–1270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Seitzinger SP (1987) Nitrogen biogeochemistry in an unpolluted estuary: the importance of benthic denitrification. Mar Ecol-Prog Ser 41:177–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Seitzinger SP (1988) Denitrification in fresh-water and coastal marine ecosystems: ecological and geochemical significance. Limnol Oceanogr 33:702–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Seitzinger SP, Giblin AE (1996) Estimating denitrification in North Atlantic continental shelf sediments. Biogeochemistry 35:235–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Seitzinger SP, Nixon SW (1985) Eutrophication and the rate of denitrification and N2O production in coastal marine-sediments. Limnol Oceanogr 30:1332–1339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Seitzinger S, Nixon S, Pilson MEQ, Burke S (1980) Denitrification and N2O production in near-shore marine-sediments. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 44:1853–1860CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Seitzinger SP, Nixon SW, Pilson MEQ (1984) Denitrification and nitrous-oxide production in a coastal marine ecosystem. Limnol Oceanogr 29(1):73–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Sisler FD, Zobell CE (1951) Nitrogen fixation by sulfate reducing bacteria indicated by Nitrogen/Argon ratios. Science 113:511CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sullivan BK, Van Keuren D, Clancy M (2001) Timing and size of blooms of the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi in relation to temperature in Narragansett Bay, RI. Hydrobiologia 451:113–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sundback K, Enoksson V, Graneli W, Pettersson K (1991) Influence of sublittoral microphytobenthos on the oxygen and nutrient flux between sediment and water: a laboratory continuous-flow study. Mar Ecol-Prog Ser 74:263–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Tibbles BJ, Lucas MI, Coyne VE, Newton ST (1994) Nitrogenase activity in marine-sediments from a temperate salt-marsh lagoon: modulation by complex polysaccharides, ammonium and oxygen. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 184:1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Weston N, Carini S, Giblin A, Banta G, Hopkinson C, Tucker J (1996) Estimating denitrification in sediments of the Parker River estuary, Massachusetts. Biol Bull 191:334–335Google Scholar
  83. Yoch DC, Whiting GJ (1986) Evidence for Nh4 + switch-off regulation of nitrogenase activity by bacteria in salt-marsh sediments and roots of the grass spartina-alterniflora. Appl Environ Microbiol 51:143–149Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Earth Sciences DepartmentBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Graduate School of OceanographyUniversity of Rhode IslandNarragansettUSA

Personalised recommendations