Nitrogen cycling in Sandusky Bay, Lake Erie: Oscillations between strong and weak export and implications for harmful algal blooms

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Abstract

Recent global water quality crises point to an urgent need for greater understanding of cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cHABs) and their drivers. Nearshore areas of Lake Erie such as Sandusky Bay may become seasonally limited by nitrogen (N) and are characterized by distinct cHAB compositions (i.e., <i>Planktothrix</i> over <i>Microcystis</i>). This study investigated phytoplankton N uptake pathways, determined drivers of N depletion, and characterized the N budget in Sandusky Bay. Nitrate (NO<sub>3</sub><sup>&amp;minus;</sup>) and ammonium (NH<sub>4</sub><sup>+</sup>) uptake, N fixation, and N removal processes were quantified by stable isotopic approaches. Dissimilatory N uptake was a relatively modest N sink, with denitrification, anammox, and N<sub>2</sub>O production accounting for 84, 14, and 2&amp;thinsp;% of N removal, respectively. <i>Phytoplankton</i> assimilation was the dominant N uptake mechanism, and NO<sub>3</sub><sup>&amp;minus;</sup> uptake rates were higher than NH<sub>4</sub><sup>+</sup> uptake rates. Riverine DIN loading was sometimes insufficient to meet assimilatory and dissimilatory demands, but N fixation alleviated this deficit. N fixation made up 23.7&amp;ndash;85.4&amp;thinsp;% of total phytoplankton N acquisition and indirectly supports Planktothrix blooms. However, N fixation rates were surprisingly uncorrelated with NO<sub>3</sub><sup>&amp;minus;</sup> or NH<sub>4</sub><sup>+</sup> concentrations. Owing to temporal separation in sources and sinks of N to Lake Erie, Sandusky Bay pendulums between acting as a strong and weak source of downstream N loading to Lake Erie. Estuarine systems such as Sandusky Bay are mediators of downstream N loading, but climate change-induced increases in precipitation and N loading will likely intensify the swings of the N pendulum in favor of N export.

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Salk, K. R., Bullerjahn, G. S., McKay, R. M. L., Chaffin, J. D., & Ostrom, N. E. (2018). Nitrogen cycling in Sandusky Bay, Lake Erie: Oscillations between strong and weak export and implications for harmful algal blooms. Biogeosciences, 15(9), 2891–2907. https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-15-2891-2018

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