Short-Term and Interannual Variability of Redox-Sensitive Chemical Parameters in Hypoxic/Anoxic Bottom Waters of the Chesapeake Bay

Document Type

Article - Merrimack Access Only

Publication Title

Marine Chemistry

Publication Date


Abstract/ Summary

A combination of CTD casts, discrete bottle sampling and in situ voltammetric microelectrode profiling was used to examine changing redox conditions in the water column at a single station south of the Bay Bridge in the upper Chesapeake Bay in late July/ early August, 2002–2005. Short-term (2–4 h) fluctuations in the oxic/suboxic/anoxic interface were documented using in situ voltammetric solid-state electrodes. Profiles of dissolved oxygen and sulfide revealed tidally-driven vertical fluctuations of several meters in the depth and thickness of the suboxic zone. Bottom water concentrations of sulfide, Mn2+ and Fe2+ also varied over the tidal cycle by approximately an order of magnitude. These data indicate that redox species concentrations at this site varied more due to physical processes than biogeochemical processes. Based on analysis of ADCP data, tidal currents at this station were strongly polarized, with the principal axis of tidal currents aligned with the mainstem channel. Together with the chemical data, the ADCP analysis suggests tidal flushing of anoxic bottom waters with suboxic water from north of the site. The present study is thus unique because while most previous studies have focused on processes across relatively stable redox interfaces, our data clearly demonstrate the influence of rapidly changing physical mixing processes on water column redox chemistry. Also noted during the study were interannual differences in maximum bottom water concentrations of sulfide, Mn2+ and Fe2+. In 2003, for example, heavy spring rains resulted in severe hypoxia/anoxia in June and early July. While reported storm-induced mixing in late July/early August 2003 partially alleviated the low-oxygen conditions, bottom water concentrations of sulfide, Mn2+ and Fe2+ were still much higher than in the previous year. The latter implies that the response time of the microbial community inhabiting the suboxic/anoxic bottom waters to changing redox conditions is slow compared to the time scale of episodic mixing events. Bottom water concentrations of the redox-sensitive chemical species should thus be useful as a tracer to infer prior hypoxic/ anoxic conditions not apparent from ambient oxygen levels at the time of sampling.