Metabolism of a nitrogen-enriched coastal marine lagoon during the summertime

Abstract

We measured metabolism rates in a shallow, nitrogen-enriched coastal marine ecosystem on Cape Cod (MA, USA) during seven summers using an open-water diel oxygen method. We compared two basins, one directly receiving most of the nitrogen (N) load (“Snug Harbor”) and another further removed from the N load and better flushed (“Outer Harbor”). Both dissolved oxygen and pH varied greatly over the day, increasing in daylight and decreasing at night. The more N-enriched basin frequently went hypoxic during the night, and the pH in both basins was low (compared to standard seawater) when the oxygen levels were low, due to elevated carbon dioxide. Day-to-day variation in gross primary production (GPP) was high and linked in part to variation in light. Whole-ecosystem respiration tended to track this short-term variation in GPP, suggesting that respiration by the primary producers often dominated whole-system respiration. GPP was higher in the more N-loaded Snug Harbor. Seagrasses covered over 60 % of the area of the better-flushed, Outer Harbor throughout our study and were the major contributors to GPP there. Seagrasses covered 20 % of the area in Snug Harbor for the first 5 years of our study, and their contribution to GPP was relatively small. The seagrasses in Snug Harbor died off completely in the 6th year, but GPP remained high then and in the subsequent year. Overall, rates of phytoplankton GPP were relatively low, suggesting that benthic micro- and macro-algae may be the dominant primary producers in Snug Harbor in most years. Net ecosystem production in both Snug Harbor and the Outer Harbor was variable from year to year, showing net heterotrophy in some years and net autotrophy in others, with a trend towards increasing autotrophy over the 7 years reported here.

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Acknowledgments

Funding was provided by the Biocomplexity Program of the National Science Foundation, the Woods Hole SeaGrant Program, and an endowment given by David R. Atkinson to Cornell University. We thank Clara Funk, Laura Wittman Keeling, Eli Perrone, and Ted Price for field assistance, and Richard Payne of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for providing light data. We greatly appreciate the lending of field equipment by Hach Hydromet and the US Geological Survey, and we thank Chris Sherwood of the USGS for his support and interactions. We dedicate this paper to the late Scott Nixon, a very close friend and colleague who contributed so much to coastal marine ecosystem research over the past 40 years, and to his mentor, the late H.T. Odum who pioneered the open-water technique for measuring metabolism and who helped inspire a generation of scientists to appreciate coastal marine lagoons: “Each day as the sun rises and retires, the beautiful green bays like great creatures breath in and out” (Odum 1956).

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Correspondence to Robert W. Howarth.

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Responsible Editor: Leila J. Hamdan.

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Howarth, R.W., Hayn, M., Marino, R.M. et al. Metabolism of a nitrogen-enriched coastal marine lagoon during the summertime. Biogeochemistry 118, 1–20 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-013-9901-x

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Keywords

  • Seagrass
  • Eutrophication
  • Nitrogen pollution
  • Gross primary production
  • Net ecosystem production
  • Estuary
  • Lagoon
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Nitrogen limitation