Composition and settling properties of suspended particulate matter in estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay and Baltic Sea regions

Abstract

Purpose

Our goal was to understand how differences in source material (allochthonous vs. autochthonous) and phytoplankton communities (diatoms vs. cyanobacteria) influence composition and settling properties of suspended particulate matter.

Materials and methods

We characterized the composition and settling properties of suspended particulate matter in two systems—one which has a high hydrologic loading factor (watershed to surface area ratio), and a diatom-dominated phytoplankton community (James River Estuary, USA), and a second, where hydrologic inputs are proportionally smaller, and the summer phytoplankton community is  dominated by cyanobacteria (Curonian Lagoon, Lithuania).

Results and discussion

In the James, we found that TSS concentrations were positively related to discharge, whereas POC concentrations were negatively correlated with discharge and positively correlated with Chl-a. We infer that suspended particulate matter in this system was largely derived from allochthonous inputs, but that the organic matter fraction was derived from autochthonous production. In the Curonian Lagoon, TSS concentrations were correlated with Chl-a, but not discharge, indicating that suspended particulate matter was largely of autochthonous origin. In the James, the proportion of settleable materials was greater during high TSS concentrations, indicating that high discharge events delivered heavier particulates. In the Curonian Lagoon, we observed a seasonal decline in settling rates associated with the shift from mixed (diatoms and chlorophytes) to cyanobacteria-dominated phytoplankton, which we attribute to the presence of positively buoyant cyanobacteria.

Conclusions

We found that a comparative approach yielded useful insights regarding sources, composition, and settling properties of suspended particulate matter in two estuaries that differ in hydrologic loading and phytoplankton community composition. Our findings suggest that the presence of positively buoyant cyanobacteria favors export losses of particulate C, N, and P to marine waters over retention through sedimentation in transitional zones.

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Acknowledgements

This paper is dedicated to Prof. Saulius Gulbinskas, a valued member of the Klaipeda research group, whose research efforts informed our understanding of sedimentation processes in the Curonian Lagoon. PAB is grateful to the US Fulbright Commission for their support of his research in Lithuania.

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Correspondence to Paul A. Bukaveckas.

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Bukaveckas, P.A., Katarzyte, M., Schlegel, A. et al. Composition and settling properties of suspended particulate matter in estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay and Baltic Sea regions. J Soils Sediments 19, 2580–2593 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-018-02224-z

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Keywords

  • Baltic Sea
  • Chesapeake Bay
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Settling rates
  • Suspended sediment