Upper estuarine segments are characterized by mixing of diverse source waters with a variety of constituents that may influence water clarity (e.g., algae, inorganic particulates, dissolved color). We measured turbidity, total suspended solids (TSS), chlorophyll-a (CHLa), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in upper segments of the James and York Estuaries to better understand their role in light attenuation. Turbidity and TSS were found to be the best predictors of inter-site and intra-site variations in light attenuation. CHLa was not found to be a strong predictor of light attenuation, indicating that suspended particulate matter was largely non-algal. CDOM played a greater role in light attenuation in the Pamunkey and Mattaponi sub-estuaries, which derive a greater proportion of their inflow from lowland (Coastal Plain) sources where extensive wetlands and floodplain forest likely serve as a source of CDOM. Although dissolved and particulate components of light attenuation were derived from external (watershed) sources, variation in external inputs (river discharge) was not a strong predictor of estuarine light attenuation. Analysis of long-term (25-year) data indicate trends of decreasing turbidity and increasing water clarity at some sites, coinciding with decreases in river sediment inputs. In the James Estuary, underwater light conditions remain below targets for successful SAV colonization and favor phytoplankton-dominated primary production. Management actions that reduce sediment loads are likely to be the most effective means for improving water clarity in upper estuarine segments.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Abdelrhman, M.A. 2017. Quantifying contributions to light attenuation in estuaries and coastal embayments: Application to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Estuaries and Coasts 40: 994–1012.
Baldizar, J.M., and N.B. Rybicki. 2006. Primary factors affecting water clarity at shallow water sites throughout the Chesapeake and Maryland coastal bays. Proceedings of the Eighth Federal Interagency Sedimentation Conference 1027–1034.
Batiuk, R.A., P. Bergstrom, M. Kemp, E. Koch, L. Murray, J. Court Stevenson, R. Bartleson, et al. 2000. Chesapeake Bay submerged aquatic vegetation water quality and habitat-based requirements and restoration targets: A second technical thesis. Annapolis, MD, USA: Chesapeake Bay Program; EPA.
Bouska, K.L., J. N. Houser, N.R. De Jager, D.C. Drake, S.F. Collins, D.K. Gibson-Reinemer, and M. A. Thomsen. 2020. Conceptualizing alternate regimes in a large floodplain-river ecosystem: Water clarity, invasive fish and floodplain vegetation. Journal of Environmental Management 264: 110516.
Bukaveckas, P.A., and M. Robbins-Forbes. 2000. The role of dissolved organic carbon in the attenuation of photosynthetically active and ultraviolet radiation in Adirondack lakes. Freshwater Biology 43: 339–354.
Bukaveckas, P.A., L.E. Barry, M.J. Beckwith, V. David, and B. Lederer. 2011. Factors determining the location of chlorophyll maximum and the fate of algal production within the tidal freshwater James River. Estuaries and Coasts 34 (3): 569–582.
Bukaveckas, P.A., and W.N. Isenberg. 2013. Loading, transformation, and retention of nitrogen and phosphorus in the tidal freshwater James River (Virginia). Estuaries and Coasts 36 (6): 1219–1236.
Bukaveckas, P.A., R.B. Franklin, S. Tassone, B. Trache, and T.A. Egerton. 2018. Cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins at the river-estuarine transition. Harmful Algae 76: 11–21.
Bukaveckas, P.A., M. Katarzyte, A. Schlegel, R. Spuriene, T. Egerton, and D. Vaiciute. 2019. Composition and settling properties of suspended particulate matter in estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay and Baltic Sea regions. Journal of Soil and Sediments 19: 2580–2593.
Bukaveckas, P.A., S. Tassone, W.M. Lee, and R.B. Franklin. 2020. The influence of storm events on metabolism and water quality of riverine and estuarine segments of the James, Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers. Estuaries and Coasts 43: 1585–1602.
Chen, Z.C., and P.H. Doering. 2016. Variation of light attenuation and the relative contribution of water quality constituents in the Caloosahatchee River Estuary. Florida Scientist 79 (2–3): 93–108.
Davies-Colley, R.J., and D.G. Smith. 2001. Turbidity, suspended sediment, and water clarity: A review. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 37 (5): 1085–1101.
Davies-Colley, R.J., D.J. Ballant, S.H. Elliot, A. Swales, A.O. Hughes, and M.P. Gall. 2014. Light attenuation—A more effective basis for the management of fine suspended sediment than mass concentration? Water Science & Technology 69: 1867–1874.
Dennison, W.C., R.J. Orth, J.C. Stevenson, V. Carter, S. Kollar, P.W. Bergstrom, and R.A. Batiuk. 1993. Assessing water quality with submersed aquatic vegetation. BioScience 43 (2): 86–94.
Egerton, T.A., R.E. Morse, H.G. Marshall, and M.R. Mulholland. 2014. Emergence of algal blooms: The effects of short-term variability in water quality on phytoplankton abundance, diversity, and community composition in a tidal estuary. Microorganisms 2: 33–57.
Ferrari, G.M. 2000. The relationship between chromophoric dissolved organic matter and dissolved organic carbon in the European Atlantic coastal area and in the West Mediterranean Sea (Gulf of Lions). Marine Chemistry 70 (4): 339–357.
Gallegos, C.L. 1994. Refining habitat requirements of submersed aquatic vegetation: Role of optical models. Estuaries 17 (1): 198–219.
Gallegos, C.L., and K.A. Moore. 2000. Factors contributing to water-column light attenuation. In Chesapeake Bay submerged aquatic vegetation water quality and habitat-based requirements and restoration targets: a second technical synthesis, by R.A. Batiuk, 35–54. Annapolis, MD: EPA Chesapeake Bay Program.
Gallegos, C.L. 2001. Calculating optical water quality targets to restore and project submersed aquatic vegetation: Overcoming problems in partitioning the diffuse attenuation coefficient for photosynthetically active radiation. Estuaries 24 (3): 381–397.
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 (2–3): 156–170.
Gardner, J.R., S.H. Ensign, J.N. Houser, and M.W. Doyle. 2019. Light exposure along particle flowpaths in large rivers. Limnology and Oceanography. https://doi.org/10.1002/lno.11256.
Gellis, A.C., and others, 2009. Sources, transport, and storage of sediment in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2008–5186.
Gosselain, V., J.P. Descy, and E. Everbecq. 1994. The phytoplankton community of the River Meuse, Belgium: Seasonal dynamics (year 1992) and the possible incidence of zooplankton grazing. Hydrobiologia 289 (1): 179–191.
Hupp, C.R., A.R. Pierce, and G.B. Noe. 2009. Floodplain geomorphic processes and environmental impacts of human alteration along Coastal Plain rivers, USA. Wetlands 29: 413–429.
Jones, R.C. 2020. Recovery of a tidal freshwater embayment from eutrophication: A multi-decadal study. Estuaries and Coasts 43: 1318–1334.
Kemp, W.M., W.R. Boynton, J.E. Adolf, D.F. Boesch, W.C. Boicourt, G. Brush, J.C. Cornwell, T.R. Fisher, P.M. Glibert, J.D. Hagy, L.W. Harding, E.D. Houde, D.G. Kimmel, W.D. Miller, R.I.E. Newell, M.R. Roman, E.M. Smith, and J.C. Stevenson. 2005. Eutrophication of Chesapeake Bay: Historical trends and ecological interactions. Marine Ecology Progress Series 303: 1–29.
Kim, G.E., P. St-Laurent, M.A.M. Friedrichs, and A. Mannino. 2020. Impacts of water clarity variability on temperature and biogeochemistry in the Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries and Coasts 43: 1973–1991.
Kirk, J.T.O. 2011. Light and Photosynthesis in aquatic ecosystems, 3rd ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Koch, R.W., D.L. Guelda, and P.A. Bukaveckas. 2004. Phytoplankton growth in the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, USA: Inter-site differences in light and nutrient limitation. Aquatic Ecology 38: 17–26.
Lake, S.J., M.J. Brush, I.C. Anderson, and H.I. Kator. 2013. Internal versus external drivers of periodic hypoxia in a coastal plain tributary estuary: The York River, Virginia. Marine Ecology Progress Series 492: 21–39.
McSweeney, J.M., R.J. Chant, J.L. Wilkin, and C.K. Sommerfield. 2017. Suspended sediment impacts on light limited productivity in the Delaware Estuary. Estuaries and Coasts 40: 977–993.
Morse, R.E., J. Shen, J.L. Blanco-Garcia, W.S. Hunley, S. Fentress, M. Wiggins, and M.R. Mulholland. 2011. Environmental and physical controls on the formation and transport of blooms of the dinoflagellate Cochlodinium polykrikoides Margalef in the lower Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Estuaries and Coasts 34: 1006–1025.
Morton, R., and B.L. Henderson. 2008. Estimation of non-linear trends in water quality: An improved approach using generalized additive models. Water Resources Research 44: W07420.
Moyer, D.L. and J.D. Blomquist. 2020. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended-sediment loads and trends measured at the Chesapeake Bay River Input Monitoring stations—Water years 1985–2019: U.S. Geological Survey data release, https://doi.org/10.5066/P9VG459V.
Murphy, R.R., E. Perry, J. Harcum, and J. Keisman. 2019. A generalized additive model approach to evaluating water quality: Chesapeake Bay case study. Environmental Modelling and Software 118: 1–13.
Noe, G.B., and C.R. Hupp. 2009. Retention of riverine sediment and nutrient loads by Coastal Plain floodplains. Ecosystems 12: 728–746.
Qin, Q., and J. Shen. 2017. The contribution of local and transport processes to phytoplankton biomass variability over different time scales in the Upper James River, Virginia. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 196: 123–133.
Qin, Q., and J. Shen. 2021. Typical relationships between phytoplankton biomass and transport time in river-dominated coastal aquatic systems. Limnology and Oceanography. https://doi.org/10.1002/lno.11874.
Rochelle-Newall, E.J., and T.R. Fisher. 2002. Chromophoric dissolved organic matter and dissolved organic carbon in Chesapeake Bay. Marine Chemistry 77 (1): 23–41.
Stedmon, C.A., S. Markager, and R. Bro. 2003. Tracing dissolved organic matter in aquatic environments using a new approach to fluorescence spectroscopy. Marine Chemistry 82: 239–254.
Tassone, S.J., and P.A. Bukaveckas. 2019. Seasonal, interannual, and longitudinal patterns in estuarine metabolism derived from diel oxygen data using multiple computational approaches. Estuaries and Coasts 42 (1): 1032–1051.
Testa, J.M., V. Lyubehich, and Q. Zhang. 2019. Patterns and trends in Secchi disk depth over three decades in the Chesapeake Bay estuarine complex. Estuaries and Coasts 42: 927–943.
Wang, Z., F. Chai, H. Xue, X. H. Wang, Y. J. Zhang, R. C. Dugdale, and F. B. Wilkerson. 2021. Light regulation of phytoplankton growth in San Francisco Bay studied using a 3D sediment transport model. Frontiers in Marine Science 8: 633707.
Wood, J.D., and P.A. Bukaveckas. 2014. Increasing severity of phytoplankton nutrient limitation following reductions in point source inputs to the tidal freshwater segment of the James River Estuary. Estuaries and Coasts 37: 1188–1201.
Wood, J.D., D. Elliot, G. Garman, D. Hopler, W.M. Lee, S. McIninch, A.J. Porter, and P.A. Bukaveckas. 2016. Autochthony, allochthony and the role of consumers in influencing the sensitivity of aquatic systems to nutrient enrichment. Food Webs 7: 1–12.
Xu, J., R.R. Hood, and S.Y. Chao. 2005. A simple empirical optical model for simulating light attenuation variability in a partially mixed estuary. Estuaries and Coasts 28 (4): 572–580.
Yang, G., and D.L. Moyer. (2020) Estimation of non-linear water quality trends in high-frequency monitoring data. Science of the Total Environment 715: 136686.
Yuan, L.L. 2021. Continental-scale effects of phytoplankton and non-phytoplankton turbidity on macrophyte occurrence in shallow lakes. Aquatic Sciences 83: 14.
Zarnetske, J.P., M. Bouda, B.W. Abbott, J. Saiers, and P.A. Raymond. 2018. Generality of hydrologic transport limitation of watershed organic carbon flux across ecoregions of the United States. Geophysical Research Letters 45: 11702–11711.
Zhao, Y., and K. Song. 2018. Relationships between DOC and CDOM based on the total carbon-specific fluorescence intensities for river waters across China. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences 123: 2353–2361.
We are grateful to the VCU Integrated Life Sciences PhD program for support to RH, the VCU Rice Center for providing continuous monitoring data, our field crew (D. Hopler and S. Tassone), Q. Roberts and D. Bronk (VIMS) for facilities to analyze CDOM samples, and William Mac Lee for sample analysis.
Communicated by Hongbin Liu
About this article
Cite this article
Henderson, R., Bukaveckas, P.A. Factors Governing Light Attenuation in Upper Segments of the James and York Estuaries and Their Influence on Primary Producers. Estuaries and Coasts 45, 470–484 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-021-00983-6