Articles | Volume 7, issue 10
26 Oct 2010
 | 26 Oct 2010

Resuspension and estuarine nutrient cycling: insights from the Neuse River Estuary

D. R. Corbett

Abstract. For at least the past several decades, North Carolina's Neuse River Estuary (NRE) has been subject to water quality problems relating to increased eutrophication. Research initiated in the past several years have addressed the nutrient processes of the water column and the passive diffusion processes of the benthic sedimentary environment. Resuspension of bottom sediments, by bioturbation, tides, or winds, may also have a significant effect on the flux of nutrients in an estuarine system These processes can result in the advective transport of sediment porewater, rich with nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon, into the water column. Thus, estimates of nutrient and carbon inputs from the sediments may be too low.

This study focused on the potential change in bottom water nutrient concentrations associated with measured resuspension events. Previous research used short-lived radionuclides and meteorological data to characterize the sediment dynamics of the benthic system of the estuary. These techniques in conjunction with the presented porewater inventories allowed evaluation of the depth to which sediments have been disturbed and the advective flux of nutrients to the water column. The largest removal episode occurred in the lower NRE as the result of a wind event and was estimated that the top 2.2 cm of sediment and corresponding porewater were removed. NH4+ advective flux (resuspended) was 2 to 6 times greater than simply diffusion. Phosphate fluxes were estimated to be 15 times greater than the benthic diffusive flux. Bottom water conditions with elevated NH4+ and PO43− indicate that nutrients stored in the sediments continue to play an important role in overall water quality and this study suggests that the advective flux of nutrients to the water column is critical to understand estuarine nutrient cycling.

Final-revised paper