Tidal variability of nutrients in a coastal coral reef system influenced by groundwater
Abstract. To investigate variation in nitrite, nitrate, phosphate, and silicate in a spring–neap tide in a coral reef system influenced by groundwater discharge, we carried out a time-series observation of these nutrients and 228Ra, a tracer of groundwater discharge, in the Luhuitou fringing reef at Sanya Bay in the South China Sea. The maximum 228Ra, 45.3 dpm 100 L−1, appeared at low tide and the minimum, 14.0 dpm 100 L−1, appeared during a flood tide in the spring tide. The activity of 228Ra was significantly correlated with water depth and salinity in the spring–neap tide, reflecting the tidal-pumping feature of groundwater discharge. Concentrations of all nutrients exhibited strong diurnal variation, with a maximum in the amplitude of the diel change for nitrite, nitrate, phosphate, and silicate in the spring tide of 0.46, 1.54, 0.12, and 2.68 µM, respectively. Nitrate and phosphate were negatively correlated with water depth during the spring tide but showed no correlation during the neap tide. Nitrite was positively correlated with water depth in the spring and neap tide due to mixing of nitrite-depleted groundwater and nitrite-rich offshore seawater. They were also significantly correlated with salinity (R2 ≥ 0.9 and P < 0.05) at the ebb flow of the spring tide, negative for nitrate and phosphate and positive for nitrite, indicating the mixing of nitrite-depleted, nitrate- and phosphate-rich less saline groundwater and nitrite-rich, nitrate- and phosphate-depleted saline offshore seawater. We quantified variation in oxidized nitrogen (NOx) and phosphate contributed by biological processes based on deviations from mixing lines of these nutrients. During both the spring and neap tide biologically contributed NOx and phosphate were significantly correlated with regression slopes of 4.60 (R2 = 0.16) in the spring tide and 13.4 (R2 = 0.75) in the neap tide, similar to the composition of these nutrients in the water column, 5.43 (R2 = 0.27) and 14.2 (R2 = 0.76), respectively. This similarity indicates that the composition of nutrients in the water column of the reef system was closely related with biological processes during both tidal periods, but the biological influence appeared to be less dominant, as inferred from the less significant correlations (R2 = 0.16) during the spring tide when groundwater discharge was more prominent. Thus, the variability of nutrients in the coral reef system was regulated mainly by biological uptake and release in a spring–neap tide and impacted by mixing of tidally driven groundwater and offshore seawater during spring tide.