Highly variable nutrient concentrations in the Northern Gulf of Mexico
The distribution of surface nutrients along the salinity gradient in the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River outflow region was examined during four cruises, including two simultaneous cruises, conducted in the northern Gulf during the summer of 2010 and 2011, and in late spring of 2012. The new, extensive data set covers the salinity gradient from 11 to 37 psu (practical salinity unit) in a year of extraordinarily high river discharge (2011), with few samples from a year of average (2010) and below average (2012) river outflow. The overall surface concentrations of nitrate+nitrite, orthophosphate and silicate are compared to those recorded in cruises spanning the 1985 – 2009 interval. Using Monte Carlo simulations to test the statistical significance, we found that surface orthophosphate and nitrate+nitrite concentrations are approximately three and two fold smaller, respectively, in the 2010–2012 period compared to the previous years. Changes in silicate concentrations were, in most cases, not significant, and their assessment complicated by different measurement techniques and potential preservation artifacts. The weighted river loading of these nutrients was, on the other hand, very high in the latest period when samples mostly covered 2011. The well-known negative correlation between nutrient concentrations and salinity at the ocean surface is confirmed in the most recent data. The area surrounding the Mississippi River mouth is characterized by inorganic N:P ratios greater than 30:1 that decrease to values typically less than 10:1 at about 100 km from of the mouth. Overall our analysis suggests that surface nutrient concentrations in the northern Gulf of Mexico cannot be described with any good accuracy by a linear model based on river discharge alone.
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- Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography