The Delaware Estuary has a history of high anthropogenic nutrient loadings but has been classified as a high-nutrient, low-growth system due to persistent light limitation caused by turbidity. While the biogeochemical implications of light limitation in turbid estuaries have been well-studied, there has been minimal effort focused on the connectivity between hydrodynamics, sediment dynamics, and light limitation. Our understanding of sediment dynamics in the Delaware Estuary has advanced significantly in the last decade, and this study describes the impact of spatiotemporal variability of the estuarine turbidity maximum (ETM) on light-limited productivity. This analysis uses data from eight along-estuary cruises from March, June, September, and December 2010 and 2011 to evaluate the impact of the turbidity maximum on production. Whereas the movement of the ETM is controlled primarily by river discharge, the structure of the ETM is modulated by stratification, which varies with both river discharge and spring-neap conditions. We observe that the ETM’s location and structure control spatial patterns of light availability. To evaluate the relative contributions of river discharge and spring-neap variability to the location of phytoplankton blooms, we develop an idealized two-dimensional Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) numerical model. We conclude that high river flows and neap tides can drive stratification that is strong enough to prevent sediment from being resuspended into the surface layer, thus providing light conditions favorable for primary production. This study sheds light on the role of stratification in controlling sediment resuspension and promoting production, highlighting the potential limitations of biogeochemical models that neglect sediment processes.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aristizábal, M., and Chant, R. 2013. A numerical study of salt fluxes in Delaware Bay Estuary, Journal of Physical Oceanography.
Aristizábal, M., and R. Chant. 2014. Mechanisms Driving Stratification in Delaware Bay Estuary. Ocean Dynamics 64: 1615–1629.
Arndt, S., J.P. Vanderborght, and P. Regnier. 2007. Diatom growth response to physical forcing in a macrotidal estuary: coupling hydrodynamics, sediment transport, and biogeochemistry. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 112.
Beardsley, R.C., and W.C. Boicourt. 1981. On estuarine and continental-shelf circulation in the Middle Atlantic Bight. Evolution of physical oceanography 198-233.
Biggs, R.B., J.H. Sharp, T.M. Church, and J.M. Tramontano. 1983. Optical properties, suspended sediments, and chemistry associated with the turbidity maxima of the Delaware Estuary. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 40: s172–s179.
Biggs, R.B., and E.L. Beasley. 1988. Bottom and suspended sediments in the Delaware River and Estuary. Ecology and Restoration of the Delaware River Basin 116-131.
Burchard, H., R.D. Hetland, E. Schulz, and H.M. Schuttelaars. 2011. Drivers of residual estuarine circulation in tidally energetic estuaries: Straight and irrotational channels with parabolic cross section. Journal of Physical Oceanography 41: 548–570.
Cloern, J.E. 1991. Tidal stirring and phytoplankton bloom dynamics in an estuary. Journal of marine research 49: 203–221.
Cook, T.L., C.K. Sommerfield, and K.-C. Wong. 2007. Observations of tidal and springtime sediment transport in the upper Delaware Estuary, Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science 72: 235–246.
De Swart, H., H. Schuttelaars, and S. Talke. 2009. Initial growth of phytoplankton in turbid estuaries: A simple model. Continental Shelf Research 29: 136–147.
Desmit, X., J.-P. Vanderborght, P. Regnier, and R. Wollast. 2005. Control of phytoplankton production by physical forcing in a strongly tidal, well-mixed estuary. Biogeosciences 2: 205–218.
Devlin, M., J. Barry, D. Mills, R. Gowen, J. Foden, D. Sivyer, and P. Tett. 2008. Relationships between suspended particulate material, light attenuation and Secchi depth in UK marine waters, Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science 79: 429–439.
Duval, D. 2013. Sedimentary response of the Delaware Estuary to tropical cyclones Irene and Lee in 2011, University of Delaware.
Fennel, K., J. Wilkin, J. Levin, J. Moisan, J. O’Reilly, and D. Haidvogel. 2006. Nitrogen cycling in the Middle Atlantic Bight: Results from a three-dimensional model and implications for the North Atlantic nitrogen budget. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 20.
Fisher, T.R., L.W. Harding, D.W. Stanley, and L.G. Ward. 1988. Phytoplankton, nutrients, and turbidity in the Chesapeake, Delaware, and Hudson estuaries, Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science 27: 61–93.
Gallegos, C.L., T.E. Jordan, A.H. Hines, and D.E. Weller. 2005. Temporal variability of optical properties in a shallow, eutrophic estuary: Seasonal and interannual variability, Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science 64: 156–170.
Ganju, N., J. Miselis, and A. Aretxabaleta. 2014. Physical and biogeochemical controls on light attenuation in a eutrophic, back-barrier estuary. Biogeosciences 11: 7193–7205.
Garvine, R.W., R.K. McCarthy, and K.-C. Wong. 1992. The axial salinity distribution in the Delaware estuary and its weak response to river discharge, Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science 35: 157–165.
Gibbs, R.J., L. Konwar, and A. Terchunian. 1983. Size of flocs suspended in Delaware Bay. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 40: s102–s104.
Haidvogel, D.B., H.G. Arango, K. Hedstrom, A. Beckmann, P. Malanotte-Rizzoli, and A.F. Shchepetkin. 2000. Model evaluation experiments in the North Atlantic Basin: simulations in nonlinear terrain-following coordinates. Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans 32: 239–281.
Hansen, D.V., and M. Rattray. 1965. Gravitational circulation in straits and estuaries. Journal of Marine Research 23.
Hermes, A. L. 2013. Spatial and seasonal particulate organic carbon cycling within the Delaware estuary, assessed using biomarker and stable carbon isotopic approaches, Rutgers University-Graduate School-New Brunswick.
Janzen, C.D., and K.C. Wong. 2002. Wind-forced dynamics at the estuary-shelf interface of a large coastal plain estuary. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans (1978–2012) 107 .2-1-2-12
Ketchum, B. H. 1952. The distribution of salinity in the estuary of the Delaware River, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Kineke, G., and R. Sternberg. 1992. Measurements of high concentration suspended sediments using the optical backscatterance sensor. Marine Geology 108: 253–258.
Lawson, S., P. Wiberg, K. McGlathery, and D. Fugate. 2007. Wind-driven sediment suspension controls light availability in a shallow coastal lagoon. Estuaries and Coasts 30: 102–112.
MacCready, P., and W.R. Geyer. 2010. Advances in estuarine physics. Annual Review of Marine Science 2: 35–58.
Malone, T., L. Crocker, S. Pike, and B. Wendler. 1988. Influences of river flow on the dynamics of phytoplankton production in a partially stratified estuary, Marine ecology progress series. Oldendorf 48: 235–249.
Mansue, L. J., and Commings, A. B. 1974. Sediment transport by streams draining into the Delaware Estuary, US Government Printing Office.
Marchesiello, P., J.C. McWilliams, and A. Shchepetkin. 2001. Open boundary conditions for long-term integration of regional oceanic models. Ocean modelling 3: 1–20.
May, C.L., J.R. Koseff, L.V. Lucas, J.E. Cloern, and D.H. Schoellhamer. 2003. Effects of spatial and temporal variability of turbidity on phytoplankton blooms. Marine Ecology Progress Series 254: 111–128.
McSweeney, J.M., R. Chant, and C.K. Sommerfield. 2016. Lateral Variability of Sediment Transport in the Delaware Estuary. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 121: 725–744. doi:10.1002/2015JC010974.
Monismith, S.G., W. Kimmerer, J.R. Burau, and M.T. Stacey. 2002. Structure and flow-induced variability of the subtidal salinity field in northern San Francisco Bay. Journal of Physical Oceanography 32: 3003–3019.
Nash, D. B. 1994. Effective sediment-transporting discharge from magnitude-frequency analysis, The Journal of Geology, 79-95.
Neiheisel, J. 1973. Source of detrital heavy minerals in estuaries of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.
Orlanski, I. 1976. A simple boundary condition for unbounded hyperbolic flows. Journal of computational physics 21: 251–269.
Pennock, J.R. 1985. Chlorophyll distributions in the Delaware estuary: regulation by light-limitation, Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science 21: 711–725.
Pennock, J.R., and J.H. Sharp. 1986. Phytoplankton production in the Delaware Estuary: temporal and spatial variability. Marine Ecology Progress Series 34: 143–155.
Pennock, J.R. 1987. Temporal and spatial variability in phytoplankton ammonium and nitrate uptake in the Delaware Estuary, Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science 24: 841–857.
Pennock, J.R., and J.H. Sharp. 1994. Temporal alternation between light- and nutrient-limitation of phytoplankton production in a coastal plain estuary, Marine ecology progress series. Oldendorf 111: 275–288.
Ralston, D.K., W.R. Geyer, and J.C. Warner. 2012. Bathymetric controls on sediment transport in the Hudson River estuary: Lateral asymmetry and frontal trapping. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans (1978–2012) 117.
Scully, M.E., and C.T. Friedrichs. 2007. Sediment pumping by tidal asymmetry in a partially mixed estuary. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans (1978–2012) 112.
Sharp, J.H., C.H. Culberson, and T.M. Church. 1982. The chemistry of the Delaware estuary. General considerations. Limnology and Oceanography 27: 1015–1028.
Sharp, J.H., J.R. Pennock, T.M. Church, J.M. Tramontano, and L.A. Cifuentes. 1984. The estuarine interaction of nutrients, organics, and metals: A case study in the Delaware Estuary, in: The Estuary as a Filter, 241–258. New York: Academic Press.
Sharp, J.H., L.A. Cifuentes, R.B. Coffin, J.R. Pennock, and K.-C. Wong. 1986. The influence of river variability on the circulation, chemistry, and microbiology of the Delaware Estuary. Estuaries 9: 261–269.
Sharp, J.H., K. Yoshiyama, A.E. Parker, M.C. Schwartz, S.E. Curless, A.Y. Beauregard, J.E. Ossolinski, and A.R. Davis. 2009. A biogeochemical view of estuarine eutrophication: Seasonal and spatial trends and correlations in the Delaware Estuary. Estuaries and coasts 32: 1023–1043.
Shchepetkin, A.F., and J.C. McWilliams. 2005. The regional oceanic modeling system (ROMS): a split-explicit, free-surface, topography-following-coordinate oceanic model. Ocean Modelling 9: 347–404.
Simpson, J.H., J. Brown, J. Matthews, and G. Allen. 1990. Tidal straining, density currents, and stirring in the control of estuarine stratification. Estuaries 13: 125–132.
Sommerfield, C. K., and Madsen, J. A. 2004. Sedimentological and Geophysical Survey of the Upper Delaware Estuary: Final Report to the Delaware River Basin Commission, University of Delaware Sea Grant Publication, 126 pp.
Sommerfield, C.K., and K.C. Wong. 2011. Mechanisms of sediment flux and turbidity maintenance in the Delaware Estuary. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans (1978–2012) 116.
Stacey, M.T., J.R. Burau, and S.G. Monismith. 2001. Creation of residual flows in a partially stratified estuary. J. Geophys. Res 106: 013–017.
Stross, R.G., and R.C. Sokol. 1989. Runoff and flocculation modify underwater light environment of the Hudson River estuary, Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science 29: 305–316.
Umlauf, L., and H. Burchard. 2003. A generic length-scale equation for geophysical turbulence models. Journal of Marine Research 61: 235–265.
US Census. 2010. Population Change for Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas in the United States and Puerto Rico, http://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2010/cph-t/cph-t-5.html.
Warner, J.C., C.R. Sherwood, R.P. Signell, C.K. Harris, and H.G. Arango. 2008. Development of a three-dimensional, regional, coupled wave, current, and sediment-transport model. Computers & Geosciences 34: 1284–1306.
Weil, C. B. 1977. Sediments, structural framework, and evolution of Delaware Bay, a transgressive estuarine delta, Sea Grant Technical Report.
Wofsy, S. 1983. A simple model to predict extinction coefficients and phytoplankton biomass in eutrophic waters. Limnology and Oceanography 28: 1144–1155.
Yoshiyama, K., and J.H. Sharp. 2006. Phytoplankton response to nutrient enrichment in an urbanized estuary: Apparent inhibition of primary production by overeutrophication. Limnology and Oceanography 51: 424–434.
We thank Eli Hunter, Maria Aristizábal, Anna Hermes, and the R/V Hugh Sharp crew for their dedication to the field campaign. Special thanks are due to Aboozar Tabatabai and Alex López for their helpful feedback regarding the model development. We appreciate feedback from two anonymous reviewers, whose suggestions significantly improved the manuscript. Data collection was funded through National Science Foundation grants OCE-0928567 and OCE-0825833 to R. Chant and OCE-0928496 to C. Sommerfield. This material is also based upon work supported by the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under grant no. DGE-0937373. The data collected in this study and the model output can be accessed at http://tds.marine.rutgers.edu/thredds/roms/catalog.html or by contacting Jacqueline McSweeney at email@example.com.
Communicated by James L. Pinckney
About this article
Cite this article
McSweeney, J.M., Chant, R.J., Wilkin, J.L. et al. Suspended-Sediment Impacts on Light-Limited Productivity in the Delaware Estuary. Estuaries and Coasts 40, 977–993 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-016-0200-3
- Light-limited productivity
- Turbid estuaries
- Spatiotemporal variability