Seasonal hypoxia in the bottom water off the Mississippi River delta.
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Hypoxia (oxygen concentration less than 2 mg L-1 or 62.5 mmol m-3) occurs on the Louisiana continental shelf during summer when the consumption of oxygen by sediment and water column respiration exceed resupply by photosynthesis and mixing. Biological processes that consume or produce oxygen have been summarized in a budget that can be used to quantify the degree to which consumption in deep water and in the sediments exceeds net production and thus the time it takes to reach hypoxic conditions following the spring onset of stratification. The net consumption rate by the sea floor biota (sediment oxygen consumption, SOC) is inversely related to oxygen concentration and directly related to temperature. Photosynthesis is of potential importance throughout the deep water column and on the sea floor when light is adequate. A non-steady state, time-dependent numerical simulation model is used to compare biological and physical processes with shipboard measurements and continuous near-bottom records. The simulations illustrate possible variations in oxygen concentration on time scales of hours to months, and these in general match much of the variability in the direct observations at time scales of days to weeks. The frequently observed unremitting anoxia lasting weeks at some locations is not produced in the present simulations. A possible explanation is the chemical oxidation in the water column of reduced metabolic end-products produced in the sediments by anaerobic metabolism. Direct measurements of biological processes could lead to better understanding of how extrinsic forcing functions can best be managed to improve water quality.
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