A Retrospective Analysis of Nutrients and Phytoplankton Productivity in the Mississippi River Plume

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Marine Science


Long-term patterns in riverine nutrient flux in the lower Mississippi River were examined in relationship to spatial and temporal patterns in surface nutrient concentrations, chlorophyll, and primary productivity in the outflow region in the northern Gulf of Mexico. A retrospective analysis of dissolved inorganic nutrient fluxes based on USGS water quality data and US Army Corps of Engineers discharge data from the 1950s to mid-2004 showed an increase in river-borne dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) flux after 1967. Flux of DIN peaked in the early 1980s and has since fluctuated and shown a general decreasing trend since the early 1990s. Records for total phosphorus (total P) fluxes beginning in mid-1974 exhibited a variable but slight increasing trend up to 2004. The increase in fluxes during the 1970s and into the 1980s can be attributed to increases in both nutrient concentrations and river discharge. DIN concentrations since the 1980s have shown a decreasing trend. Total P concentrations exhibited large fluctuations, with no consistent long-term trend. Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) concentrations and orthophosphate (Ortho P) peaked in the 1980s, declined relative to DIN and remained relatively low. DIN:Ortho P ratios were consistently well above the Redfield N:P ratio of 16:1. DIN:Total P ratios were variable and lower, fluctuating around the Redfield 16:1 value. Both DIN:Ortho P and DIN:Total P ratios were weakly, but significantly, correlated with river discharge and fluctuations were largely a reflection of higher DIN concentrations during high-discharge events. DIN:Ortho P ratios in surface waters of the outflow region adjacent to the birdfoot delta were higher in spring, consistent with seasonal variation in riverine DIN:Ortho P ratios. The seasonal signal diminished with increasing distance to the west of the delta, indicating a selective removal of DIN or source of Ortho P along the shelf. DIN fluxes and SeaWiFS satellite-derived chlorophyll showed seasonally elevated values during the first half of the year followed by generally lower values in late summer and fall. This seasonal signal diminished from east to west. The observed relationship between DIN flux and chlorophyll was consistent with ship-based observations of a linkage between riverine nutrient inputs and productivity. Long-term trends in river discharge were correlated with the Multivariate ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) Index (MEI) (r = -0.281, p < 0.0001), evidence that river discharge was influenced by global climatic trends. C 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Continental Shelf Research





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