Sedimentary phosphorus dynamics and the evolution of bottom-water hypoxia: A coupled benthic–pelagic model of a coastal system

Daniel C. Reed, Caroline P. Slomp and Bo G. Gustafsson

Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(3), 2011, 1075-1092 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.3.1075

ABSTRACT: The present study examines oxygen and phosphorus dynamics at a seasonally hypoxic site in the Arkona basin of the Baltic Sea. A coupled benthic–pelagic reactive-transport model is used to describe the evolution of bottom-water solute concentrations, as well as pore-water and sediment profiles. Aerobic respiration dominates remineralization, with iron reduction, denitrification, and sulphate reduction playing secondary roles, while other pathways are negligible. Sediments represent a significant oxygen sink chiefly due to the aerobic degradation of organic matter, as well as nitrification and iron oxyhydroxide precipitation. Most phosphorus deposited in sediments is in organic matter, yet cycling is dominated by iron-bound phosphorus due to rapid dissimilatory iron reduction coupled with aerobic iron oxyhydroxide formation. Sustained hypoxia results in an initial decrease in sediment phosphorus content due to dissolution of phosphorus-bearing iron oxyhydroxides, resulting in a pulse of phosphate to overlying waters. Although an organic-rich layer is formed under low-oxygen conditions, enhanced remineralization of organic phosphorus relative to organic carbon tempers sedimentary phosphorus accumulation. Upon reoxygenation of bottom waters after a decade of sustained hypoxia, oxygen concentrations do not immediately achieve values observed prior to hypoxia because the organic-rich layer creates a higher benthic oxygen demand. Artificial reoxygenation of bottom waters leads to a substantial increase in the iron-bound phosphorus pool; the total phosphorus content of the sediment, however, is unaffected. A relapse into hypoxia would consequently produce a large pulse of phosphate to the overlying waters potentially exacerbating the situation.

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