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

Document NameMicrobial metabolism and nutrient cycling in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River plumes
Document AuthorPakulski J.D.
Benner, R.
Whitledge, T
Amon, R
Eadie, B
Cifuentes, L.A.
Ammerman, J.W.
Stockwell, D.
Short DescriptionESTUARINE COASTAL AND SHELF SCIENCE 50 (2): 173-184.\
CategorySubgroup 1: Characterization of the Cause(s) of Hypoxia
Publication Year2000

Abstract: Spatial distributions of chlorophyll, bacterial abundances and production, community respiration, and dissolved C, N, P and Si were measured in the Mississippi River (MRP) and Atchafalya River (ARP) plumes during July 1993. Dark bottle incubations were used to estimate net flux rates of inorganic nutrients, community respiration, and changes in chlorophyll concentrations in unfiltered water samples. Concentrations of total dissolved N (TDN) and soluble reactive P (SRP) in the Mississippi River were 55 mu M and 3 mu M higher, respectively, compared with those in the Atchafalaya River. Concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (DON) in the Atchafalaya River, however, were 35 and 11 mu M higher, respectively than in the Mississippi River. Elevated chlorophyll concentrations, bacterial abundances and production, and community respiration rates were observed at intermediate (5-25) salinities of both plumes. Property-salinity plots indicated net sinks of dissolved N, P and Si at intermediate salinities consistent with photosynthetic utilization of these substances within the plumes. The distribution of dissolved P, N and chlorophyll suggested phytoplankton-mediated transformation of riverine-NO3- to DON at intermediate salinities of the MRP, and a similar transformation of riverine SRP to dissolved organic P (DOP) at intermediate salinities of the ARP. Net regeneration of dissolved Si and NH4+ was observed in regions of elevated chlorophyll concentrations and net removal rates in both plumes. Nitrification rates in the MRP were c. 10-fold higher than in the ARP. Estimates of C fixation by nitrifying bacteria equalled or exceeded heterotrophic bacterial C production in the low salinity region of the MRP, but were negligible compared to heterotrophic bacterial production in the ARP. Dissolved inorganic N:P, Si:P and DOC:DON:DOP ratios suggested the potential for P limitation in both plume systems during the period investigated.