Nutrient enrichments and phytoplankton growth in the surface waters of the Louisiana Bight

Stephen M. Smith and Gary L. Hitchcock


Nitrate concentrations have increased twofold in the Mississippi River during the past three decades. The increased nitrogen loading to the Louisiana shelf has been postulated as a factor leading to eutrophication and the subsequent development of hypoxia west of the Mississippi River delta. While ratios of nitrogen:phosphorus and nitrogen:silica are relatively high in surface waters on the western Louisiana shelf, nitrogen has been posed as the "limiting" nutrient in this region. Bioassays were performed with nutrient additions to surface waters collected from the Louisiana shelf to examine the potential for specific nutrient limitation. Experiments were conducted in March and September 1991, and May 1992. The growth responses of natural and cultured phytoplankton populations were determined by measuring the time course of in vivo and 3-(3,4 dichlorophenyl)-1, 1-dimethylurea (DCMU)-induced fluorescence, as well as initial and final chlorophyll a concentrations. The results suggest that phosphate and silicate potentially limit phytoplankton growth during the winter-spring, particularly at low salinties. In late summer, in contrast, nitrogen limitation may be prominent at higher salinties.

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