PREP Publications


Increasing nitrogen concentrations and declining eelgrass beds in Great Bay, NH are clear indicators of impending problems for the state’s estuaries. A workgroup established in 2005 by the NH Department of Environmental Services and the NH Estuaries Project (NHEP) adopted eelgrass survival as the water quality target for nutrient criteria development for NH’s estuaries. In 2007, the NHEP received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to collect water quality information including that from moored sensors and hyper-spectral imagery data of the Great Bay Estuary. Data from the Great Bay Coastal Buoy, part of the regional Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), were used to derive a multivariate model of water clarity with phytoplankton, Colored Dissolved Organic Matter (CDOM), and non-algal particles. Non-algal particles include both inorganic and organic matter. Most of the temporal variability in the diffuse attenuation coefficient of Photosynthetically Available Radiation (PAR) was associated with non-algal particles. However, on a mean daily basis non-algal particles and CDOM contributed a similar fraction (~30 %) to the attenuation of light. The contribution of phytoplankton was about a third of the other two optically important constituents. CDOM concentrations varied with salinity and magnitude of riverine inputs demonstrating its terrestrial origin. Non-algal particle concentration also varied with river flow but also wind driven resuspension. Twelve of the NHEP estuarine assessment zones were observed with the hyperspectral aerial imagery on August 29 and October 17. A concurrent in situ effort included buoy measurements, continuous along-track sampling, discrete water grab samples, and vertical profiles of light attenuation. PAR effective attenuation coefficients retrieved from deep water regions in the imagery agreed well with in-situ observations. Water clarity was lower and optically important constituent concentrations were higher in the tributaries. Eelgrass survival depth, estimated as the depth at which 22% of surface light was available, ranged from less than half a meter to over two meters. The best water clarity was found in the Great Bay (GB), Little Bay (LB), and Lower Piscataqua River (LPR) assessment zones. Absence of eelgrass from these zones would indicate controlling factors other than water clarity.

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Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership, Durham, NH

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