, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 562–580 | Cite as

Sediment-water oxygen and nutrient exchanges along the longitudinal axis of Chesapeake Bay: Seasonal patterns, controlling factors and ecological significance

  • Jean L. W. Cowan
  • Walter R. Boynton


Sediment-water oxygen and nutrient (NH4 +, NO3 +NO2 , DON, PO4 3−, and DSi) fluxes were measured in three distinct regions of Chesapeake Bay at monthly intervals during 1 yr and for portions of several additional years. Examination of these data revealed strong spatial and temporal patterns. Most fluxes were greatest in the central bay (station MB), moderate in the high salinity lower bay (station SB) and reduced in the oligohaline upper bay (station NB). Sediment oxygen consumption (SOC) rates generally increased with increasing temperature until bottom water concentrations of dissolved oxygen (DO) fell below 2.5 mg l−1, apparently limiting SOC rates. Fluxes of NH4 + were elevated at temperatures >15°C and, when coupled with low bottom water DO concentrations (<5 mg l−1), very large releases (>500 μmol N m−2 h−1) were observed. Nitrate + nitrite (NO3 +NO2 ) exchanges were directed into sediments in areas where bottom water NO3 +NO2 concentrations were high (>18 μM N); sediment efflux of NO3 +NO2 occurred only in areas where bottom water NO3 +NO2 concentrations were relatively low (<11 μM N) and bottom waters well oxygenated. Phosphate fluxes were small except in areas of hypoxic and anoxic bottom waters; in those cases releases were high (50–150 μmol P m−2 h−1) but of short duration (2 mo). Dissolved silicate (DSi) fluxes were directed out of the sediments at all stations and appeared to be proportional to primary production in overlying waters. Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) was released from the sediments at stations NB and SB and taken up by the sediments at station MB in summer months; DON fluxes were either small or noninterpretable during cooler months of the year. It appears that the amount and quality of organic matter reaching the sediments is of primary importance in determining the spatial variability and interannual differences in sediment nutrient fluxes along the axis of the bay. Surficial sediment chlorophyll-a, used as an indicator of labile sediment organic matter, was highly correlated with NH4 , PO4 3−, and DSi fluxes but only after a temporal lag of about 1 mo was added between deposition events and sediment nutrient releases. Sediment O:N flux ratios indicated that substantial sediment nitrification-denitrification probably occurred at all sites during winter-spring but not summer-fall; N:P flux ratios were high in spring but much less than expected during summer, particularly at hypoxic and anoxic sites. Finally, a comparison of seasonal N and P demand by phytoplankton with sediment nutrient releases indicated that the sediments provide a substantial fraction of nutrients required by phytoplankton in summer, but not winter, especially in the mid bay region.


Bottom Water Dissolve Organic Nitro Marine Ecology Progress Series Sediment Oxygen Consumption Dissolve Organic Nitro Flux 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dauphin Island Sea LabUniversity of South AlabamaDauphin Island
  2. 2.Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies Chesapeake Biological LaboratoryUniversity of Maryland SystemSolomons

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