DISSOLVED OXYGEN AND NUTRIENT CYCLING IN CHESAPEAKE BAY: AN EXAMINATION OF CONTROLS AND BIOGEOCHEMICAL IMPACTS USING RETROSPECTIVE ANALYSIS AND NUMERICAL MODELS
Testa, Jeremy Mark
Kemp, William M
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Hypoxia, or the condition of low dissolved oxygen levels, is a topic of interest throughout aquatic ecology. Hypoxia has both realized and potential impacts on biogeochemical cycles and many invertebrate and vertebrate animal populations; the majority of the impacts being negative. It is apparent that the extent and occurrence of hypoxic conditions has been on the rise globally, despite a handful of reductions due to management success stories. Efforts to curb the development of hypoxia are well underway in many aquatic ecosystems worldwide, where oxygen levels are a key target for water quality management. Long-term increases in the volume of seasonal bottom-water hypoxia have been observed in Chesapeake Bay. Although there is evidence for the occurrence of low oxygen conditions following initial European habitation of the Chesapeake watershed, as well as direct observations of anoxia prior to the mid 20th century large-scale nutrient load increases, it is clear that hypoxic volume has increased over the last 50 years. Surprisingly, the volume of hypoxia observed for a given nutrient load has doubled since the mid-1980s, suggesting the importance of hypoxia controls beyond nutrient loading alone. I conducted a suite of retrospective data analyses and numerical modeling studies to understand the controls on and consequences of hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay over multiple time and space scales. The doubling of hypoxia per unit TN load was associated with an increase in bottom-water inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, suggesting the potential for a positive feedback, where hypoxia-induced increases in N and P recycling support higher summer algal production and subsequent O<sub>2</sub> consumption. I applied a two-layer sediment flux model at several stations in Chesapeake Bay, which revealed that hypoxic conditions substantially reduce coupled nitrification-denitrification and phosphorus sorption to iron oxyhydroxides, leading to the elevated sediment-water N and P fluxes that drive this feedback. An analysis of O<sub>2</sub> dynamics during the winter-spring indicate that the day of hypoxia onset and the rate of March-May water-column O<sub>2</sub> depletion are most strongly correlated to chlorophyll-a concentrations in bottom water; this suggests that the spring bloom drives early season O<sub>2</sub> depletion. Metrics of winter-spring O<sub>2</sub> depletion were un-correlated with summer hypoxic volumes, however, suggesting that other controls (including physical forcing and summer algal production) are important. I used a coupled hydrodynamic-biogeochemical model for Chesapeake Bay to quantify the extent to which summer algal production is necessary to maintain hypoxia throughout the summer, and that nutrient load-induced increases in hypoxia are driven by elevated summer respiration in the water-column of lower-Bay regions.