The relationship between suspended solids and nutrients with variable hydrologic flow regimes




Paudel, Bhanu
Montagna, Paul A.
Adams, Leslie


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The hypothesis that “freshwater inflow variability over space and time can drive suspended solids and nutrient concentrations” was tested by comparing three micro-tidal estuaries (Guadalupe, Lavaca-Colorado, and Nueces) in Texas with different hydrologic flow regimes over three years with wet and dry conditions. In all three estuaries, Total suspended solids (TSS) was less than 50 mg/L most of the time. In the Nueces Estuary, TSS of higher than 100 mg/L occurred during frontal events. Dissolved inorganic nitrogen (ammonia+nitrite+nitrate) concentrations were most of the time lowest in the Nueces Estuary (i.e. mol/L), with low inflow rates and high average salinity of 37.6. Salinity was highest in the river-estuary mouth (average salinity 38.3) of the Nueces Estuary relative to the other oceanic-side stations (average salinity 37), indicating that the system was a “reverse estuary” where evaporation exceeds freshwater inflow, resulting in net inflow of marine water into the estuary. The inverse correlation between ammonium and salinity in all three estuaries and the corresponding negative correlation between nitrite+nitrate concentrations and salinity in the Guadalupe Estuary indicate that the quantity of inflow controls nitrogen concentrations and transformations in the three estuaries. Drought conditions limited riverine transport of nitrogen and sediment to the three estuaries, demonstrating the importance of freshwater inflow to maintaining these constituents. Average silica and orthophosphate concentrations correlated positively with chlorophyll-a in combined data from all three estuaries. Silica and orthophosphate concentrations remained constant over the study period, but correlated with chlorophyll-a when suspended solid was low. Therefore, inflow dynamics drive changes in the salinity regime, suspended solids, and act to maintain nutrient concentrations.



freshwater inflow, hydrologic regime, nutrients, total suspended solids, reverse estuary



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Paudel, B., Montagna, P.A. and Adams, L., 2019. The relationship between suspended solids and nutrients with variable hydrologic flow regimes. Regional Studies in Marine Science, 29, p.100657.