Tidal pumping drives nutrient and dissolved organic matter dynamics in a Gulf of Mexico subterranean estuary

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Santos, IR, Burnett, WC, Dittmar, T, Suryaputra, IGNA & Chanton, J 2009, 'Tidal pumping drives nutrient and dissolved organic matter dynamics in a Gulf of Mexico subterranean estuary', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 73, no. 5, pp. 1325-1339.

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We hypothesize that nutrient cycling in a Gulf of Mexico subterranean estuary (STE) is fueled by oxygen and labile organic matter supplied by tidal pumping of seawater into the coastal aquifer. We estimate nutrient production rates using the standard estuarine model and a non-steady-state box model, separate nutrient fluxes associated with fresh and saline submarine groundwater discharge (SGD), and estimate offshore fluxes from radium isotope distributions. The results indicate a large variability in nutrient concentrations over tidal and seasonal time scales. At high tide, nutrient concentrations in shallow beach groundwater were low as a result of dilution caused by seawater recirculation. During ebb tide, the concentrations increased until they reached a maximum just before the next high tide. The dominant form of nitrogen was dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) in freshwater, nitrate in brackish waters, and ammonium in saline waters. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) production was two-fold higher in the summer than in the winter, while nitrate and DON production were one order of magnitude higher. Oxic remineralization and denitrification most likely explain these patterns. Even though fresh SGD accounted for only ∼5% of total volumetric additions, it was an important pathway of nutrients as a result of biogeochemical inputs in the mixing zone. Fresh SGD transported ∼25% of DOC and ∼50% of total dissolved nitrogen inputs into the coastal ocean, with the remainder associated with a one-dimensional vertical seawater exchange process. While SGD volumetric inputs are similar seasonally, changes in the biogeochemical conditions of this coastal plain STE led to higher summertime SGD nutrient fluxes (40% higher for DOC and 60% higher for nitrogen in the summer compared to the winter). We suggest that coastal primary production and nutrient dynamics in the STE are linked.

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