Colored Dissolved Organic Matter in Shallow Estuaries: The Effects of Source and Transport on Light Attenuation and Measurement

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
William K Oestreich1,2, Neil K Ganju2, John Pohlman2 and Steven E Suttles2, (1)Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, United States, (2)U.S. Geological Survey, Woods Hole, MA, United States
Light is of great importance to the health and ecological function of shallow estuaries. Primary production in such estuaries, which is typically dominated by seagrass, is contingent upon light penetration to the deeper part of the estuarine water column. A major component contributing to light attenuation in these systems is colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM). CDOM is most often measured via a proxy, fluorescing dissolved organic matter (fDOM), due to the ease of taking rapid, accurate fDOM measurements. Fluorescence data can then be converted to absorbance by CDOM for use in light attenuation models. However, this fDOM-CDOM conversion has proven to be quite variable between estuaries, and even between sites along a given estuary. We displayed and attempted to explain this variability through the study of three diverse estuaries: West Falmouth Harbor (MA), Barnegat Bay (NJ), and Chincoteague Bay (MD/VA). Land use surrounding these estuaries ranges from wastewater treatment to agricultural operations and residential communities. Measurements of fDOM and absorbance by CDOM (quantified via spectrophotometer measurement of 0.2µm-filtered samples) were taken along a gradient from terrestrial to oceanic end-members. These measurements yielded highly variable fDOM-CDOM relationships between estuaries. The mean ratio of absorption coefficient at 340nm (m-1) to fDOM (QSU) was much higher in West Falmouth Harbor (0.874) than in Barnegat Bay (0.227) and Chincoteague Bay (0.173). This fDOM-CDOM relationship was also observed to be variable between sites within West Falmouth Harbor and Barnegat Bay, but consistent throughout sites along Chincoteague Bay. This variability, both within and between estuaries, is likely due to differing CDOM sources as a result of differences in land use in the areas surrounding these estuaries. Stable carbon isotope analysis of DOC from each site and hydrodynamic model results will be used to differentiate sources and further elucidate the fDOM-CDOM relationship.