Mixing behavior of dissolved organic carbon and its potential biological significance in the Pawcatuck River Estuary

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The distributions of dissolved organic carbon (DOC), phytoplankton biomass (as measured by in vivo fluorescence), total nitrogen and phosphorus, and light extinction were observed on 10 cruises during 1989 and 1990 in the Pawcatuck River estuary located in southern Rhode Island. In the lower estuary, the distance of peak phytoplankton biomass from the head of the estuary was positively correlated with river discharge while the magnitude of the peak increased with decreasing discharge. High light-extinction appeared to limit the accumulation of biomass in the upper estuary. Variability in light extinction was largely (50%) explained by variation in the concentration of DOC. Salinity versus constituent plots suggested that DOC behaved nonconservatively in the estuary. These observational data indicate that the mixing behavior of DOC in the estuary influences light extinction and thus may limit accumulation of phytoplankton biomass in the upper estuary. This interpretation of observational data was supported by experimental work that demonstrated the significant contribution of DOC to light extinction, and by measurements, of phytoplankton productivity that showed greater light limitation in the upper estuary. © 1994 Estuarine Research Federation.

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