The Effects of Varying Salinity on Ammonium Exchange in Estuarine Sediments of the Parker River, Massachusetts

Nathaniel B. Weston, Anne E Giblin, Gary Thomas Banta, Charlse S. Hopkinson, Jane Tucker

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


We examined the effects of seasonal salinity changes on sediment ammonium (NH4+) adsorption and exchange across the sediment–water interface in the Parker River Estuary, by means of seasonal field sampling, laboratory adsorption experiments, and modeling. The fraction of dissolvedNH4+relative to adsorbedNH4+in oligohaline sediments rose significantly with increased pore water salinity over the season. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that small (∼3) increases in salinity from freshwater conditions had the greatest effect onNH4+adsorption by reducing the exchangeable pool from 69% to 14% of the totalNH4+in the upper estuary sediments that experience large (0–20) seasonal salinity shifts.NH4+dynamics did not appear to be significantly affected bysalinity in sediments of the lower estuary where salinities under 10 were not measured. We further assessed the importance of salinity-mediated desorption by constructing a simple mechanistic numerical model for pore water chloride andNH4+diffusion for sediments of the upper estuary. The model predicted pore water salinity andNH4+profiles that fit measured profiles very well and described a seasonal pattern ofNH4+flux from the sediment that was significantly affected by salinity. The model demonstrated that changes in salinity on several timescales (tidally, seasonally, and annually) can significantly alter the magnitude and timing ofNH4++ release from the sediments. Salinity-mediated desorption and fluxes ofNH4+from sediments in the upper estuary can be of similar magnitude to rates of organic nitrogen mineralization and may therefore be important in supporting estuarine productivity when watershed inputs of N are low.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEstuaries and Coasts
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)985-1003
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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