Skip to main content

Nutrient Loading and Transformations in the Columbia River Estuary Determined by High-Resolution In Situ Sensors

Abstract

The Columbia River estuary is characterized by relatively large tidal currents and water residence times of a few days or less. These and other environmental conditions tend to suppress water column productivity and favor the export of riverborne nutrients to the coastal ocean. However, hotspots of biological activity may allow for significant nutrient transformation and removal within the estuary, but these processes have previously been difficult to quantify due to the challenges of obtaining measurements at appropriate frequency and duration. In this study, nutrient biogeochemical dynamics within the salt-influenced region of the estuary were quantified using high-resolution in situ observations of nutrients and physical water properties. During 2010, three autonomous nutrient sensors (Satlantic SUNA, SubChem Systems Inc. APNA, WET Labs Cycle-PO4) that together measured nitrate + nitrite, orthophosphate, ammonium, silicic acid, and nitrite were deployed on fixed observatory platforms. Hourly measurements captured tidal fluctuations and permitted an analysis of river and ocean end-member mixing. The results suggested that during summer, the lower estuary released high concentrations of ammonium and phosphate despite low concentrations in the river and coastal ocean. This was likely a result of organic matter accumulation and remineralization in the estuarine turbidity maximum and the lateral bays adjacent to the main channel.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9

Notes

  1. 1.

    http://www.stccmop.org/datamart/observation_network

  2. 2.

    http://www.stccmop.org/datamart/observation_network

References

  1. Abril, G., H. Etcheber, P. Le Hir, P. Bassoullet, B. Boutier, and M. Frankgnoulle. 1999. Oxic/anoxic oscillations and organic carbon mineralization in an estuarine maximum turbidity zone (The Gironde, France). Limnology and Oceanography 44: 1304–1315.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Abril, G., M. Nogueira, H. Etcheber, G. Cabecadas, E. Lemaire, and M.J. Brogueira. 2002. Behavior of organic carbon in nine contrasting European estuaries. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 54: 241–262.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Abril, G., S.A. Riou, H. Etcheber, M. Frankignoulle, R. de Wit, and J.J. Middelburg. 2000. Transient, tidal time-scale, nitrogen transformations in an estuarine turbidity maximum-fluid mud system (The Gironde, South-west France). Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 50: 703–715.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Aminot, A., R. Kérouel, and D. Birout. 2001. A flow injection-fluorometric method for the determination of ammonium in fresh and saline waters with a view to in situ analysis. Water Research 35: 1777–1785.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. APHA, AWWA, and WEF. 1981. Standard methods for examination of water and wastewater, 15th ed. Washington: American Public Health Association.

    Google Scholar 

  6. APHA, AWWA, and WEF. 1975. Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater, 14th ed. Washington: American Public Health Association.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Armstrong, F.A., C.R. Stearns, and J.D. Strickland. 1967. The measurements of upwelling and subsequential biological processes by means of TechniconTM AutoAnalyzerTM and associated equipment. Deep Sea Research 14: 381–389.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Atlas, E., L.W. Hager, L.I. Gordon, and P.K. Park. 1971. A practical manual for use of the TechniconTM AutoAnalyzerTM in seawater nutrient analysis; revised. Oregon State University, Department of Oceanography. Technical Report 215

  9. Barnes, C.A., A.C. Dexbury, and B.A. Morse. 1972. Circulation and selected properties of the Columbia River effluent at sea. In The columbia river estuary and adjacent ocean waters, ed. A.T. Pruter and D.L. Alverson, 41–80. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Beusekom, J.E.E., and U.H. Brockmann. 1998. Transformation of phosphorus in the Elbe Estuary. Estuaries 21: 518–526.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Blackburn, T.H., and K. Henriksen. 1983. Nitrogen cycling in different types of sediments from Danish waters. Limnology and Oceanography 28: 477–493.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Bottom, D.L., C.A. Simenstad, J. Burke, A.M. Baptista, A.D. Jay, K.K. Jones, E. Casillas, and M.H. Schieve. 2005. Salmon at river’s end: the role of the estuary in the decline and recovery of Columbia River Salmon. U.S. Dept. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-NWFSC-68.

  13. Bricker, S., B. Longstaff, W. Dennison, A. Jones, K. Boicourt, C. Wicks, and J. Woerner. 2007. Effects of nutrient enrichment in the nations’ estuaries: a decade of change. NOAA Coastal Ocean Program Decision Analysis Series No. 26 Silver Spring, MD: National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

  14. Bruland, K.W., M.C. Lohan, A.M. Aguilar-Islas, G.J. Smith, B. Sohst, and A.M. Baptista. 2008. Factors influencing the chemistry of the near-field Columbia River plume: nitrate, silicic acid, dissolved Fe, and dissolved Mn. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 113: C00B02. doi:10.1029/2007JC004702.

  15. Buresh, R.J., and W.H. Patrick Jr. 1978. Nitrate reduction to ammonium in anaerobic soil. Soil Science Society of America Journal 42: 913–918.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Caffrey, J.M. 1995. Spatial and seasonal patterns in sediment nitrogen remineralization and ammonium concentrations in San Francisco Bay, California. Estuaries 18: 219–233.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Corwith, H.L., and P.A. Wheeler. 2002. El Niño related variations in nutrient and chlorophyll distributions off Oregon. Progress in Oceanography 54: 361–380.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. EPA. March 1984. “Nitrogen, ammonium” Method 350.1 (colorimetric, automated phenate). In Methods for Chemical Analysis of Water and Wastewater. Cincinnati, OH, USA: Environmental Monitoring and Support Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  19. EPA. 1984a. Phosphorus, all forms method 365.1 (colorimetric, automated ascorbic acid). In methods for chemical analysis of water and wastewater. Cincinnati: Environmental Monitoring and Support Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Google Scholar 

  20. EPA. 1984b. Sample preservation. In methods for chemical analysis of water and wastewater. Cincinnati: Environmental Monitoring and Support Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Google Scholar 

  21. EPA. 1997. Method 365.5. determination of orthophosphate in estuarine and coastal waters by automated colorimetric analysis. Cincinnati: National Exposure Research Laboratory Office of Research and Development U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Colbert, D., and J. McManus. 2003. Nutrient biogeochemistry in an upwelling-influenced estuary of the pacific northwest (Tillamook Bay, Oregoen, USA). Estuaries 26: 1205–1219.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Dahm, C.N., S.V. Gregory, and P.K. Park. 1981. Organic carbon transport in the Columbia River. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Scince 13: 645–658.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Etcheber, H., A. Taillez, G. Abril, J. Garnier, P. Servais, F. Moatar, and M.V. Commarieu. 2007. Particulate organic carbon in the estuarine turbidity maxima of the Gironde, Loire and Seine estuaries: origin and lability. Hydrobiologia 588: 245–259. doi:10.1007/s10750-007-0667-9.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Ferguson, A., B. Eyre, and J. Gay. 2004. Nutrient cycling in sub-tropical Brunswick estuary, Australia. Estuaries 27: 1–17.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Fox, J.B. 1978. The determination of nitrate: a critical review. Critical Reviews in Analytical Chemistry 51: 1493–1502.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Fox, L.E., S.L. Sager, and S.C. Wofsy. 1986. The chemical control of soluble phosphorus in the Amazon estuary. Geochimica et Comochimica Acta 50: 783–794.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Froelich, P.N. 1988. Kinetic control of dissolved phosphate in natural rivers and estuaries: a primer on the phosphate buffer mechanism. Limnology and Oceanography 33: 649–668.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Galloway, J.N., J.D. Aber, J.W. Erisman, S.P. Seitzinger, R.W. Howarth, E.B. Cowling, and J.B. Cosby. 2003. The nitrogen cascade. BioScience 53: 341–356. doi:10.1641/0006-3568.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Garnier, J., G. Billen, J. Némery, and M. Sebilo. 2010. Transformations of nutrients (N, P, Si) in the turbidity maximum zone of the Seine estuary and export to the sea. Estuary Coast Shelf Science 90: 129–141.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Genfa, Z., and P.K. Dasgupta. 1989. Fluorometric measurements of aqueous ammonium in a flow injection system. Analytical Chemistry 61: 408–412. doi:10.1021/ac00180a006.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Grasshoff, K., and F. Koroleff. 1983. Determination of nutrients. In Methods of seawater analysis, ed. K. Grasshoff, M. Ehrhardt, and K. Kremling, 125–187. Weinheim: Chemie.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Herfort, L., T.D. Peterson, F.G. Prahl, L.A. McCue, J.A. Needoba, B.C. Crump, G.C. Roegner, V. Campbell, and P. Zuber. 2012. Red waters of Myrionecta rubra are biogeochemical hotspots for the Columbia River estuary with impacts on primary/secondary productions and nutrient cycles. Estuaries and Coasts 35: 878–891.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Holmes, R.M., A. Aminot, R. Kerouel, B.A. Hooker, and B.J. Peterson. 1999. A simple and precise method for measuring ammonium in marine and fresh water ecosystems. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 56: 1801–1808. doi:10.1139/f99-128.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  35. Hopkinson, C.S., A.E. Giblin, and J. Tucker. 2001. Benthic metabolism and nutrient regeneration on the continental shelf of Easter Massachusetts, USA. Marine Ecology Progress Series 224: 1–19.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  36. Howarth, R.W., G. Billen, D. Swaney, A. Townsend, N. Jaworski, K. Lajtha, J.A. Downing, R. Elmgren, N. Caraco, T. Jordan, F. Berendse, J. Freney, V. Kudeyarov, P. Murdoch, and Zhao-Liang Zhu. 1996. Regional nitrogen budgets and riverine N and P fluxes for the drainages to the North Atlantic Ocean: natural and human influences. Biogeochemistry 35: 75–139.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  37. Jensen, M.H., E. Lomstein, and J. Sørensen. 1990. Benthic NH4 + and NO3 flux following sedimentation of a spring phytoplankton bloom in Aarhus Bight, Denmark. Marine Ecology Progress Series 61: 87–96.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  38. Johnson, K.S., and L.J. Coletti. 2002. In situ ultraviolet spectrophotometry for high resolution and long-term monitoring of nitrate, bromide and bisulfide in the ocean. Deep-Sea Research I 49: 1291–1305.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  39. Kelly, C.A., J.M. Rudd, R.H. Hesslein, D.W. Schindler, P.J. Dillon, C.T. Driscoll, S.A. Gherini, and R.E. Hecky. 1987. Prediction of biological acid neutralization in acid-sensitive lakes. Biogeochemistry 3: 129–140.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  40. Klump, J.V., and C.S. Martens. 1981. Biogeochemical cycling in an organic rich coastal marine basin—II. Nutrient sediment-water exchange processes. Geochimica et Comochimica Acta 45: 101–121.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  41. Kudela, R.M., A.R. Horner-Devine, N.S. Banas, B.M. Hickey, T.D. Peterson, R.M. McCabe, E.J. Lessard, E. Frame, K.W. Bruland, D.A. Jay, J.O. Peterson, W.T. Peterson, P.M. Kosro, S.L. Palacios, M.C. Lohan, and E.P. Dever. 2010. Multiple trophic levels fueled by recirculation in the Columbia River plume. Geophysical Research Letters 37: L18607. doi:10.1029/2010GL044342.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Kudella, R.M., and T.D. Peterson. 2009. Influence of a buoyant river plume on phytoplankton nutrient dynamics: What controls standing stocks and productivity? Journal of Geophysical Research Letters 114: C00B11. doi:10.1029/2008JC004913.

  43. Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership (LCREP). 2005. Lower Columbia River estuary monitoring project: annual report for year 2. Lower Columbia river estuary partnership. OR: Portland.

    Google Scholar 

  44. McIntire, D.C., and M.C. Amspoker. 1984. Benthic primary production in the Columbia River. Columbia River estuary data development program. Corvallis: Oregon State University.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Moeller, F.U. 2011. Biogeochemical and molecular biological characterization of nitrogen cycle processes in the Columbia river and estuary. A master’s thesis. Oregon Health and Science University

  46. Moore, A.M. 1968. Water temperatures in the Lower Columbia River. Geological Survey Circular 551

  47. Murphy, J., and J.P. Riley. 1962. A modified single solution method for the determination of phosphate in natural waters. Analytica Chimica Acta 27: 31–36.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  48. Nixon, S.W., J.W. Ammerman, L.P. Atkinson, V.M. Berounsky, G. Billen, W.C. Biocourt, W.R. Boynton, T.M. Church, D.M. Ditoro, R. Elmgrene, J.H. Garber, A.E. Giblin’or, A. Jahnkel, N.J.P. Owens, M.E.Q. Pilson, and S.P. Seizinger. 1996. The fate of nitrogen and phosphorus at the land-sea margin of the North Atlantic Ocean. Biogeochemistry 35: 141–180.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  49. Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC). 2004. Mainstem lower Columbia River estuary subbasin plan. In Columbia River basin fish and wildlife program. OR: Portland.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Prahl, F.G., L.F. Small, B.A. Sullivan, J. Cordell, C.A. Simenstad, B.C. Crump, and J.A. Baross. 1998. Biogeochemical gradients in the lower Columbia River. Hydrobiologia 361: 37–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Redfield, A.C., B.H. Ketchum, and F.A. Richards. 1963. The influences of organisms on the composition of sea-water. In The Sea, ed. M.N. Hill, 12–37. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Roegner, C.G., J.A. Needoba, and A.M. Baptista. 2011. Coastal upwelling supplies oxygen-depleted water to the Columbia river estuary. PLoS One 6: e18672. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018672.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Rowe, G.T., C.H. Clifford, K.L. Smith Jr., and P.L. Hamilton. 1977. Regeneration of nutrients in sediments off Cap Blanc, Spanish Sahara. Deep Sea Research 24: 57–64.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  54. Sakamoto, C., G. E. Friederich, and L.A. Codispoti. 1990. MBARI procedures for automated nutrient analyses using a modified Alpkem Series 300 Rapid Flow Analyzer, MBARI Technical Report 902

  55. Simenstad, C.A., L.F. Small, D.A. McIntire, D.A. Jay, and C. Sherwood. 1990. Columbia River estuary studies: an introduction to the estuary, a brief history, and prior studies. Progress in Oceanography 25: 1–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Small, L.F., and F.G. Prahl. 2004. A particle conveyor belt process in the Columbia river estuary: evidence from chlorophyll a and particulate organic carbon. Estuaries 27: 999–1013.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  57. Smith, C.J., R.D. DeLaune, and W.H. Patrick. 1985. Fate of riverine nitrate entering an estuary: I. Denitrification and nitrogen burial. Estuaries 8: 15–21.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  58. Sommerfield, W.N. 1999. Variability of residual properties in the Columbia River estuary: pilot application of emerging technologies. Master’s thesis. Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology, Beaverton

  59. Sullivan, B.E., F.G. Prahl, L.F. Small, and P.A. Covert. 2001. Seasonality of phytoplankton production in the Columbia River: a natural or anthropogenic pattern? Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 65: 1125–1139.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  60. van der Leeden, F., F.L. Troise, and D.K. Todd. 1990. The water encyclopedia, 2nd ed. Florida: Lewis.

    Google Scholar 

  61. van Winkle, W. 1914. Quality of the surface waters of Washington. Government Printing Office

  62. Whetten, J.T., J.C. Kelley, and L.G. Hanson. 1969. Characteristics of Columbia river sediment and sediment transport. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 39: 1149–1166.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  63. Whitney, F.A., W.R. Crawford, and P.J. Harrison. 2005. Physical processese that enhance nutrient transport and primary productivity in the coastal and open ocean of the subarctic NE Pacific. Deep-Sea Research II 52: 681–706.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  64. Zar, J.H. 1984. Biostatistical analysis. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We are indebted to the operational field and cyber teams of the National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction for their help with instrument deployment and data analysis. We also thank the summer undergraduate intern Ezra-Mel Pasikatan for creation of a data processing program. This research was supported through the National Science Foundation cooperative agreement OCE-0424602 and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. We would like to thank the captain and crew of the R/V Wecoma. Frederick Prahl facilitated the sample collection aboard the R/V Wecoma and provided valuable feedback on this manuscript. WET Labs provided the phosphate data as part of a pilot study in the Columbia River, under NSF contract OCE-0838099.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Melissa Gilbert.

Electronic Supplementary Material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

ESM 1

DOC 124 kb

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gilbert, M., Needoba, J., Koch, C. et al. Nutrient Loading and Transformations in the Columbia River Estuary Determined by High-Resolution In Situ Sensors. Estuaries and Coasts 36, 708–727 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-013-9597-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Columbia River Estuary
  • Nutrient cycles
  • Remineralization
  • Estuary
  • In situ sensors