The effects of a coastal power plant on an outer estuarine bay ecosystem on the west coast of Florida were evaluated with measurements and an ecological model. Field measurements of community metabolism and biomass were taken from the thermally affected bay and from similar control bays. Model simulations were used to help understand these observations in terms of ecosystem structure and functioning. In the outer discharge bay the direct impact of the thermal plume was diluted and spread overlarge areas. The ecosystem developed structure and functions with lower biomass than in the control bays but with slightly faster rates of organic turnover. The productive turnover time of producer biomass during the summer was about 5 days in the discharge bay and about 6 days in the control bays. Power plant influence on total community metabolism was small with less than 10% difference in annual averages between the discharge and control bays (5.22 and 5.58 g O2/m2/day). The selection for faster metabolic turnover rates in the discharge by was evidenced by a dominance of plankton metabolism over benthic metabolism. The annual average gross planktonic production was around 3 g O2/m2/day in the discharge bay and around 2 g/m2/day in the control bays. In the model, temperature served as a stimulant to both productivity and respiration. When the isolated effects of increased temperature were simulated the model responded with lower producer biomass and faster rates of organic turnover, as was found in field measurements. These simulations also showed increased nutrient recycling and indicated patterns of temperature-induced migrations. Since power plant operation affected water exchange in the bays, several levels of total water exchange were simulated. These simulations indicated the importance of water exchange as a stabilizing factor, especially for sensitive compartments with rapid turnover rates (i.e. plankton and phosphorus stocks). Simulations of the effects of future power plant units on the bay ecosystem showed no large changes in total metabolism but indicated larger effects of plankton entrainment mortality and temperature-induced migrations of larger organisms. © 1977.
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