Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

Document Type



Coastal hypoxia (< 2 mg O2L-1) represents a global problem that continues to worsen as nutrient fluxes to these areas increase. The second largest zone of human-induced hypoxia is located on the Louisiana continental shelf where hypoxic bottom waters commonly occur during summertime. This region is strongly impacted by the large flux of freshwater and nutrients from the Mississippi River, which influences both biological and physical processes that control oxygen dynamics. Yet, based on oxygen concentration measurements alone, it is difficult to separate the effects of biological factors from physical factors. To address this problem, I used a dual budget approach to assess the importance of oxygen sources and sinks on the Louisiana continental shelf. The dual budget was based on using stable oxygen isotopes (ä18O) in combination with conventional oxygen concentration measurements. To analyze temporal trends, surface and bottom water samples were collected monthly between July 2001 and July 2003 along an onshore-offshore transect. For better spatial resolution, shelfwide sampling was conducted extending from the Mississippi River Delta to the Louisiana-Texas border in the month of July of 2001, 2002, and 2003. Oxygen saturations values ranged between 180% at the surface and almost 0% close to the bottom with a corresponding range of ä18O values from 15‰ to 50‰. Biological parameters were important during all seasons for surface oxygen dynamics. The effects of physical factors were less apparent, except during severe physical disturbances. Bottom water oxygen dynamics showed clear seasonal signals of high oxygen depletion and larger contributions of benthic respiration during the summer, which corresponded to the strong stratification of the water column. In bottom waters, summer oxygen depletion was predominantly due to benthic respiration, accounting for about 73%, 80% and 60% of the total oxygen loss for 2001, 2002 and 2003 respectively. Model estimates of production/respiration (P/R) ratio during the July shelfwide cruises indicated that surface waters were productive with an average calculated P/R above 1. Depth stratified sampling (5 m intervals), which started in July 2002, showed that productivity in the mixed layer (5 to 10 m) was not homogeneous. Calculated P/R exceeded 1 only in the surface layer, while at 5 m P/R was approximately 1 and at a depth of 10 m, P/R was less than 1. Additionally, hypoxic conditions were only detected within 5 m of the bottom sediments. The dual budget approach yielded new estimates of productivity dynamics in surface waters and of sediment oxygen demand in bottom waters. For the first time, this study provided routine insight into productivity and respiration dynamics over large temporal and spatial scales. This could not have been accomplished using traditional methods because they commonly rely on time-consuming incubations. The study has shown that respiration dynamics in bottom waters vary seasonally with higher contribution of benthic respiration during stratified summer conditions and prevalent water column respiration during fall and winter. In contrast, seasonality in surface waters was less pronounced as productivity was more dependent on (salinity-inferred) nutrient supply than climatic forcing.



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Committee Chair

Dubravko Justic