δ15N as a proxy for historic anthropogenic nitrogen loading in Charleston Harbor, SC, USA

Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Taylor Norris Payne, Organization Not Listed, Washington, DC, United States and C. Fred T. Andrus, University of Alabama, Geological Sciences, Tuscaloosa, AL, United States
Bivalve shell geochemistry can serve as a useful indicator of changes in coastal environments. There is increasing interest in developing paleoenvironmental proxies from mollusk shell organic components. Numerous studies have focused on how the δ15N obtained from bivalve tissues can be used to trace present-day wastewater input into estuaries. However, comparatively little attention has been paid to tracing the impact of anthropogenic nitrogen loading into estuaries over time. By measuring historic levels of δ15N in the organic fraction of oyster shells (Crassostrea virginica) from archaeological sites around Charleston Harbor and comparing those levels to the δ15N content of modern shells, it is possible to assess how nitrogen has fluctuated historically in the area. Whole-shell samples from the Late Archaic Period (~3000-4000 BP, Late Woodland Period (~1400-800 BP), 18th and 19th centuries, and modern controls were measured for %N and d15N. Evidence of increased anthropogenic input of N is expected to begin in the early historic period based on similar analysis in Chesapeake Bay. More ancient samples may give insight into baseline conditions prior to recent population growth and industrialization. This information could help understand how large-scale anthropogenic nitrogen loading has affected coastal ecosystems over time and guide future remediation. Furthermore, this project will help refine and improve this novel proxy of past environmental conditions.