Nutrient Loading and Transformations in the Columbia River Estuary Determined by High-Resolution In Situ Sensors

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Marine Science


The Columbia River estuary is characterized by relatively large tidal currents and water residence times of a few days or less. These and other environmental conditions tend to suppress water column productivity and favor the export of riverborne nutrients to the coastal ocean. However, hotspots of biological activity may allow for significant nutrient transformation and removal within the estuary, but these processes have previously been difficult to quantify due to the challenges of obtaining measurements at appropriate frequency and duration. In this study, nutrient biogeochemical dynamics within the salt-influenced region of the estuary were quantified using high-resolution in situ observations of nutrients and physical water properties. During 2010, three autonomous nutrient sensors (Satlantic SUNA, SubChem Systems Inc. APNA, WET Labs Cycle-PO4) that together measured nitrate + nitrite, orthophosphate, ammonium, silicic acid, and nitrite were deployed on fixed observatory platforms. Hourly measurements captured tidal fluctuations and permitted an analysis of river and ocean end-member mixing. The results suggested that during summer, the lower estuary released high concentrations of ammonium and phosphate despite low concentrations in the river and coastal ocean. This was likely a result of organic matter accumulation and remineralization in the estuarine turbidity maximum and the lateral bays adjacent to the main channel.

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Estuaries and Coasts





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