The impact of changing climate on phenology, productivity, and benthic–pelagic coupling in Narragansett Bay

Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882, United States
Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science (Impact Factor: 2.25). 03/2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.ecss.2008.12.016

ABSTRACT The timing and magnitude of phytoplankton blooms have changed markedly in Narragansett Bay, RI (USA) over the last half century. The traditional winter–spring bloom has decreased or, in many years, disappeared. Relatively short, often intense, diatom blooms have become common in spring, summer, and fall replacing the summer flagellate blooms of the past. The annual and summer mean abundance (cell counts) and biomass (chl a) of phytoplankton appear to have decreased based on almost 50 years of biweekly monitoring by others at a mid bay station. These changes have been related to warming of the water, especially during winter, and to increased cloudiness. A significant decline in the winter wind speed may also have played a role. The changes in the phenology of the phytoplankton and the oligotrophication of the bay appear to have decreased greatly the quantity and (perhaps) quality of the organic matter being deposited on the bottom of the bay. This decline has resulted in a very much reduced benthic metabolism as reflected in oxygen uptake, nutrient regeneration, and the magnitude and direction of the net flux of N2 gas. Based on many decades of standard weekly trawls carried out by the Graduate School of Oceanography, the winter biomass of bottom feeding epibenthic animals has also declined sharply at the mid bay station. After decades of relatively constant anthropogenic nitrogen loading (and declining phosphorus loading), the fertilization of the bay will soon be reduced during May–October due to implementation of advanced wastewater treatment. This is intended to produce an oligotrophication of the urban Providence River estuary and the Upper Bay. The anticipated decline in the productivity of the upper bay region will probably decrease summer hypoxia in that area. However, it may have unanticipated consequences for secondary production in the mid and lower bay where climate-induced oligotrophication has already much weakened the historically strong benthic–pelagic coupling.

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