Chlorophyll distributions in the Delaware estuary: Regulation by light-limitation



Phytoplankton chlorophyll concentrations in the Delaware estuary range over two orders of magnitude and display several maxima over the seasonal cycle. These maxima were found to be regulated both spatially and temporally by light availability. Both the spring chlorophyll maximum, which reaches 50–60 μg chlorophyll l−1during a Skeletonema costatum dominated bloom, and transient fall blooms (15–20 μg l−1) are focused in mid-estuary. These blooms are regulated spatially by settling out of suspended sediment below the turbidity maximum and both spatially and temporally by physical factors (e.g. river flow) that cause vertical stratification in mid-estuary. In freshwater regions, chlorophyll concentrations display seasonal periodicity correlated with solar irradiance; summer chlorophyll concentrations average 30 μg l−1. These freshwater and mid-estuarine biomass maxima may be correctly predicted using a steady-state light-limitation model. In contrast, summer chlorophyll concentrations in the lower estuary remain below 10 μg l−1 and are not correctly modeled, despite minimum turbidity, and non-nutrient limiting conditions. These chlorophyll concentrations appear to be regulated by a combination of light availability and grazing. Although extremely high anthropogenic nutrient inputs in the freshwater region of the Delaware River provide non-limiting nutrient concentrations throughout the estuary, regulation of phytoplankton growth by light-limitation restricts chlorophyll concentrations below the nuisance levels found in many eutrophic systems.


School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science



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