Evaluating the origins and transformations of organic matter and dissolved inorganic nitrogen in two contrasting North Sea estuaries
Ahad, Jason Michael Elias
In order to delineate the potential sources and to understand the main controls on the biogeochemical cycling of dissolved and particulate organic matter (DOM, POM) and dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) during estuarine mixing, comprehensive seasonal geochemical and isotopic and surveys across the freshwater-tidal interface were carried out in the Tyne and Tweed Estuaries, NE UK. This study provided a contrast between a relatively pristine system (Tweed) with one that is heavily influenced by anthropogenic activity (Tyne). Geochemical and isotopic (13C, 14C and 15N) analyses demonstrated the predominance of terrigenous organic matter in both these estuaries, with elevated river discharges leading to enhanced terrestrial loading. High pCO2 values in the Tyne (summer) and Tweed (winter) suggested that a significant fraction of this terrestrially-derived organic matter (both DOM and POM pools) is relatively labile and can potentially undergo significant mineralization during estuarine mixing. In both estuaries in situ processing of DIN was relatively minor, with mixing between different sources being the main factor in controlling the distribution of nitrate and ammonium across the salinity gradient. However, anthropogenic ammonium discharges in the Tyne were found to have an enormous direct and indirect impact on estuarine nitrogen cycling. Large, concave removals of terrigenous high molecular weight (HMW) DOC caused by flocculation, biodegradation, and/or photochemical oxidation were associated with a non-conservative 13C-enrichment in d13C signatures. Radiocarbon dates showed an export of young (modern) HMW DOC and old (100-1000s of years), terrigenous POC to the North Sea. 14C-enriched values in coastal North Sea HMW DOC were attributed to anthropogenic discharges originating from within the coastal North Sea environment. In the Tweed, seasonal changes in soil characteristics resulted in an older age for POM during the summer. In the Tyne, decreases in POC% with increasing salinity sometimes coincided with an increase in POC age. This was attributed to mixing with older sediment and to the possible preferential loss of the younger, more labile POC fraction during mineralization. This study has shown that land use patterns, sewage inputs, and freshwater flushing time are the main influences in determining the behaviour and origin of organic matter and DIN entering the coastal North Sea in these two systems.