U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
EPA Science Advisory Board
Background Information

Document NameEcosystem history of Mississippi River-influenced continental shelf revealed through preserved phytoplankton pigments.
Document AuthorRabalais, N.N.
Atilla, N.
Normandeau, C.
Turner, R.E.
Short DescriptionMarine Pollution Bulletin 49: 537-547.
CategorySubgroup 1: Characterization of the Cause(s) of Hypoxia
Publication Year2004

Abstract: Pigments determined by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) provide useful information concerning water column and epibenthic plant and microbial communities in both extant communities and accumulated sediments in lakes, estuaries and the ocean. Chlorophyll and its degradation products provide an estimate of overall biomass, and carotenoid pigments provide taxonomic biomarkers of phytoplankton. We examined the pigments preserved in sediment cores from the Louisiana continental shelf adjacent to the outflow of the Mississippi River system to document changes in phytoplankton community composition, phytoplankton abundance, and conditions of hypoxia over time. Carbon accumulated in sediments from water depths of 20-60 in is primarily derived from marine phytoplankton and represents the history of phytoplankton communities in the overlying water. There is a general increase in chlorophyll a, pheopigments, zeaxanthin, fucoxanthin and most carotenoids over time, with the change gradual from 1955 to 1970, followed by a fairly steady increase to 1997. The highest chloropigment concentrations are in cores from areas more likely to be exposed to seasonal hypoxia. These indicate an increase in eutrophication in the form of greater diatom and cyanobacterial production, or a worsening of hypoxia, or both. This trend expanded westward along the Louisiana shelf in the 1990s.