Coastal upwelling supplies oxygen-depleted water to the columbia river estuary

G. Curtis Roegner, Joseph Needoba, Antonio Baptista

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Abstract

Low dissolved oxygen (DO) is a common feature of many estuarine and shallow-water environments, and is often attributed to anthropogenic nutrient enrichment from terrestrial-fluvial pathways. However, recent events in the U.S. Pacific Northwest have highlighted that wind-forced upwelling can cause naturally occurring low DO water to move onto the continental shelf, leading to mortalities of benthic fish and invertebrates. Coastal estuaries in the Pacific Northwest are strongly linked to ocean forcings, and here we report observations on the spatial and temporal patterns of oxygen concentration in the Columbia River estuary. Hydrographic measurements were made from transect (spatial survey) or anchor station (temporal survey) deployments over a variety of wind stresses and tidal states during the upwelling seasons of 2006 through 2008. During this period, biologically stressful levels of dissolved oxygen were observed to enter the Columbia River estuary from oceanic sources, with minimum values close to the hypoxic threshold of 2.0 mg L-1. Riverine water was consistently normoxic. Upwelling wind stress controlled the timing and magnitude of low DO events, while tidal-modulated estuarine circulation patterns influenced the spatial extent and duration of exposure to low DO water. Strong upwelling during neap tides produced the largest impact on the estuary. The observed oxygen concentrations likely had deleterious behavioral and physiological consequences for migrating juvenile salmon and benthic crabs. Based on a wind-forced supply mechanism, low DO events are probably common to the Columbia River and other regional estuaries and if conditions on the shelf deteriorate further, as observations and models predict, Pacific Northwest estuarine habitats could experience a decrease in environmental quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere18672
JournalPLoS One
Volume6
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

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