skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Friday, September 29 until 11:59 PM ET on Saturday, September 30 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Riverine Discharge and Phytoplankton Biomass Control Dissolved and Particulate Organic Matter Dynamics over Spatial and Temporal Scales in the Neuse River Estuary, North Carolina
Estuaries function as important transporters, transformers, and producers of organic matter (OM). Along the freshwater to saltwater gradient, the composition of OM is influenced by physical and biogeochemical processes that change spatially and temporally, making it difficult to constrain OM in these ecosystems. In addition, many of the environmental parameters (temperature, precipitation, riverine discharge) controlling OM are expected to change due to climate change. To better understand the environmental drivers of OM quantity (concentration) and quality (absorbance, fluorescence), we assessed both dissolved OM (DOM) and particulate OM (POM) spatially, along the freshwater to saltwater gradient and temporally, for a full year. We found seasonal differences in salinity throughout the estuary due to elevated riverine discharge during the late fall to early spring, with corresponding changes to OM quantity and quality. Using redundancy analysis, we found DOM covaried with salinity (adjusted r2 = 0.35, 0.41 for surface and bottom), indicating terrestrial sources of DOM in riverine discharge were the dominant DOM sources throughout the estuary, while POM covaried with environmental indictors of terrestrial sources (turbidity, adjusted r2 = 0.16, 0.23 for surface and bottom) as well as phytoplankton biomass (chlorophyll-a, adjusted r2 = 0.25, 0.14 for surface and bottom). Responses in OM quantity and quality observed during the period of elevated discharge were similar to studies assessing OM quality following extreme storm events suggesting that regional changes in precipitation, as predicted by climate change, will be as important in changing the estuarine OM pool as episodic storm events in the future.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Estuaries and Coasts
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is a large and complex mixture of compounds with source inputs that differ with location, season, and environmental conditions. Here, we investigated drivers of DOM composition changes in a marsh‐dominated estuary off the southeastern United States. Monthly water samples were collected at a riverine and estuarine site from September 2015 to September 2016, and bulk, optical, and molecular analyses were conducted on samples before and after dark incubations. Results showed that river discharge was the primary driver changing the DOM composition at the mouth of the Altamaha River. For discharge higher than ~150 m3/s, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations and the terrigenous character of the DOM increased approximately linearly with river flow. For low discharge conditions, a clear signature of salt marsh‐derived compounds was observed in the river. At the head of Sapelo Sound, changes in DOM composition were primarily driven by river discharge and possibly by summer algae blooms. Microbial consumption of DOC was larger during periods of high discharge at both sites, potentially due to the higher mobilization and influx of fresh material to the system. The Georgia coast was hit by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, which resulted in a large input of carbon to the estuary. The DOC concentration was ~2 times higher and DOM composition was more aromatic with a stronger terrigenous signature compared to the seasonal maximum observed earlier in the year during peak river discharge conditions. This suggests that extreme events notably impact DOM quantity and quality in estuarine regions.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    We demonstrate a linking of moderately high resolution (1 km) terrestrial hydrological models to a 3‐D ocean circulation model having similar resolution in the northern Gulf of Alaska, where a distributed line source of freshwater runoff exerts strong influence over the shelf's hydrographic structure and flow dynamics. The model interfacing is accomplished via mass flux boundary conditions through the ocean model coastal wall at all land‐ocean adjoining grid cells. Despite the high runoff volume and lack of a coastal mixing estuary, the implementation maintains numerical stability by prescribing depth invariant and surface‐intensified inflows at fast and slow discharge grid cells, respectively. Based on comparisons against in situ hydrographic data, the coastal sidewall mass flux boundary condition results in more realistic hindcast surface salinity and salinity gradient fields than models that distribute coastal runoff in the form of spatially distributed precipitation. Correlations with observed thermal and haline monthly anomalies reveal statistically significant hindcast temporal variability during the freshet season when the signal‐to‐noise ratio is large. Comparisons of ocean models forced by high‐ and low‐resolution hydrological models reveal differences in salinity, surface elevation, and velocity fields, highlighting the value and importance of accurate coastal runoff fields. The model results improve our understanding of the regional influence of runoff on sea level elevations and the distribution and fate of fresh water. Our approach has potential applications to biogeochemical modeling in regions where distributed line source freshwater coastal discharges deliver heat, momentum, and chemical constituents that may influence the marine carbon pump.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    The interconnected estuarine complex of the Altamaha River and adjacent sounds located in Georgia (USA) functions as a hotspot for organic matter transformation as it is transported to the Atlantic Ocean. Here, we investigated how dissolved organic matter (DOM) composition changes both spatially and seasonally along the estuary and how it influences bacterial processing. Surface samples were collected during high tide at fifteen stations throughout the estuary in April, July, October 2017, and January 2018. Bulk, optical, and molecular analyses were conducted on samples before and after dark incubations to assess DOM sources and transformation patterns in the system. The dominant driver of change in DOM composition was found to be the terrigenous‐marine gradient in organic matter sources. Six distinct clusters were identified based on the terrigenous signature of the DOM pool, explaining 45% of the variance in DOM composition in the system. Bacterial consumption of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) was strongly influenced by DOM composition, with increased degradation rates for DOM with a larger terrigenous character. However, changes in optical properties suggested that less aromatic DOM that co‐varied with the terrigenous material was preferentially degraded. The passage of Hurricane Irma in September 2017 resulted in a 27% ± 7% increase in DOC content, likely due to inundation associated with storm surge and increased local precipitation, and DOC biodegradation was 17% ± 8% higher than during summer. These effects lasted for at least one month after the storm, revealing that hurricanes can have a large impact on DOM composition and cycling in coastal systems.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Riverine input of terrestrial dissolved organic matter (DOM) is an important component of the marine carbon cycle and drives net carbon dioxide production in coastal zones. DOM exports to the Arctic Ocean are likely to increase due to melting of permafrost and the Greenland Ice Sheet, but the quantity and quality of DOM exports from deglaciated watersheds in Greenland, as well as expected changes with future melting, are unknown. We compare DOM quantity and quality in Greenland over the melt seasons of 2017–2018 between two rivers directly draining the Greenland Ice Sheet (meltwater rivers) and four streams draining deglaciated catchments that are disconnected from the ice (nonglacial streams). We couple these data with discharge records to compare dissolved organic carbon (DOC) exports. DOM sources and quality differ significantly between watershed types: fluorescence characteristics and organic molar C:N ratios suggest that DOM from deglaciated watersheds is derived from terrestrial vegetation and soil organic matter, while that in glacial watersheds contains greater proportions of algal and/or freshly produced biomass and may be more reactive. DOC specific yield is similar for nonglacial streams (0.1–1.2 Mg/km2/year) compared to a glacial meltwater river (0.2–1.1 Mg/km2/year), despite orders of magnitude differences in instantaneous discharge. Upscaling based on land cover leads to an estimate of total DOC contributions from Greenland between 0.2 and 0.5 Tg/year, much of which is derived from deglaciated watersheds. These results suggest that future warming and ice retreat may increase DOC fluxes from Greenland with consequences for the Arctic carbon cycle.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Dissolved organic matter (DOM) acts as an important biogeochemical component of aquatic ecosystems that controls nutrient cycling, influences water quality, and links terrestrial and oceanic carbon pools, yet long‐term studies of how changing environmental drivers alter its abundance and composition are rare. Using a 10‐year, spatially explicit data set from Everglades National Park, a globally significant wetland, we investigated the relationships between DOM quality/quantity and hydrologic/climatic drivers along two contrasting marsh‐estuarine transects based on generalized linear modeling and a cumulative sums analysis. Analyses revealed distinct spatial, seasonal, and interannual patterns in variability of DOC and optical properties. Landscape‐scale seasonal patterns showed an enrichment in microbial‐like and protein‐like DOM during the dry season relative to the wet season. While some compositional constituents varied with the solar calendar, responsive to temperature and photoperiod, others varied with the hydrologic calendar. Independent water level and discharge effects indicated strong hydrologic control on DOM quality that differed between the two transects, evidencing differences in their connectivity to areas of high agricultural activity. Across all sites, a significant long‐term increasing trend in the fluorescence index was observed, associated with a positive correlation with precipitation and also potential changes in agricultural inputs, with other features associated with drought and hurricanes. Lastly, the cumulative sums analysis revealed differences between the two transects in the sensitivity of DOM composition to decreased water levels associated with 30‐year climate scenarios, with the less hydrologically dynamic transect exhibiting greater potential sensitivity.

    more » « less