Article Type

Full Research Article – Special Issue






The Charleston Harbor estuary is a dynamic ecosystem draining three rivers that surround the rapidly urbanizing greater Charleston area. Projected climate change impacts include elevated sea surface temperature and local changes in water quality that will likely alter biogeochemical cycling as well as phytoplankton abundance and community composition. Partnering with the local non-profit organization Charleston Waterkeeper, surface water samples were collected from late April through October 2021 at 20 sites in the Charleston Harbor estuary system. Water quality parameters measured included sea surface temperature (SST), salinity, pH, dissolved inorganic carbon, chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM), phytoplankton pigments and nitrate and phosphate concentrations. Relatively high (6—16 μM) nitrate values were observed throughout the year and the nitrate to phosphate (N:P) ratios were consistently elevated (50—200) relative to the Redfield ratio of 16. Analysis of variance indicated that the delivery of nitrate, phosphate, and CDOM into the estuary came from upriver of the Charleston Harbor. For instance, CDOM was significantly impacted by tidal stage (p < 0.05) and was negatively correlated with salinity at low salinity sites, but no correlation was observed at high salinity sites. Seasonal patterns in phytoplankton community abundance and composition were driven by changes in SST, as overall phytoplankton biomass increased with a community shift from diatoms during colder months to flagellated cells such as prasinophytes during the warmer summer months. Phytoplankton diversity was greatest during the early summer and lowest in October. This study provides a reference baseline for water quality parameters and phytoplankton community composition in an estuarine ecosystem that is changing rapidly due to dredging and climate change processes.





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