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

Document NameBiological effects of Mississippi River nitrogen on the northern gulf of Mexico - a review and synthesis
Document AuthorDagg, M.J.
Breed, G.A.
Short DescriptionJournal of Marine Systems, 43, 133-152
CategorySubgroup 1: Characterization of the Cause(s) of Hypoxia
Publication Year2003

Abstract: The Mississippi River currently delivers approximately 1.82 Tg N year(-1) (1.3 x 10(11) mol N year(-1)) to the northern Gulf of Mexico. This large input dominates the biological processes of the region. The "new" nitrogen from the river stimulates high levels of phytoplankton production which in turn support high rates of bacterial production, protozoan and metazoan grazing, and fisheries production. A portion of the particulate organic matter produced in the pelagic food web sinks out of the euphoric zone where it contributes to high rates of oxygen consumption in the bottom waters of the inner shelf, resulting in the development of an extensive zone of hypoxia each summer. In spite of the significance of this river system to the coastal ocean of the northern gulf, we do not have an adequate understanding of the inputs, processing and ultimate fates of river nitrogen. Here we review available literature on this important system and propose a conceptual model showing how biological processes evolve in the river plume between the point of discharge and the point where plume waters are fully diluted by mixing with oceanic water.