URI biological oceanographers test shallow marine systems' response to increased nutrients

Most of the efforts to determine how estuaries respond to nutrient enrichment have been confined to relatively deeper and/or muddier river mouth estuaries. However, much of the Atlantic coast from Cape Cod to Cape Fear, as well as parts of the Florida coast and almost all of the Gulf Coast is characterized by a different type of coastal system, called by various names, including lagoon, inland bay, and salt pond. These more complex shallow systems are now facing increasing nutrient enrichment from agriculture and suburban housing development with associated on-site sewage disposal systems and ground water nitrogen enrichment.

A team of scientists at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) have focused their research on these very shallow lagoon type estuaries to determine if there are predictable patterns of response to nutrient enrichment in these more complex systems. The research team includes biological oceanographer Dr. Scott Nixon, research associates Betty Buckley and Steven Granger, and recent Ph.D. graduate Joanne Bintz.

According to a recent article in the journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, the scientific team summarized data from 30 systems with mean depths ranging from 1-12 feet and water residence times from .3-100 days. In addition the team designed and built a coastal lagoon mesocosm facility where they replicated and controlled nutrient inputs, mixing rates, and water resident time. Fed by water from Narragansett Bay, the mesocosms had a variety of typical coastal lagoon organisms added to them, in addition to the plankton that enter with the bay water and the animals contained in the sediment.

While the scientists observed some changes with regard to phytoplankton blooms and the increase of epiphytic algae growing on seagrass leaves, they were most concerned with the impact of nutrient enrichment on the survival and health of eelgrass. The mesocosm experiments showed that the epiphytes appeared to have little or no

Contact: Lisa Cugini
University of Rhode Island

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