Nitrogen dynamics in sandy freshwater sediments (Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron)

Wayne S. Gardner, Longyuan Yang, James B. Cotner, Thomas H. Johengen, Peter J. Lavrentyev

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Sediment-water nitrogen fluxes and transformations were examined at two sites in Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron, as a model for sandy freshwater sediments. Substantial ammonium release rates (74 to 350 μmole NH4+/m2/h1) were observed in flow-through cores and in situ benthic chamber experiments. Sediment-water ammonium fluxes were similar at the inner and outer bay stations even though inner bay waters are enriched with nutrients from the Saginaw River. The high net flux of remineralized ammonium into the overlying water from these sandy sediments resembles typical data for marine systems (11 to 470 μmole NH4+/m2/h1) but were higher than those reported for depositional freshwater sediments (0 to 15 μmole NH4+/m2/h1; Seitzinger 1988). Addition of montmorillonite clay (ca. 1 kg dry weight/m2) to the top of the sandy cores reduced ammonium flux. Mean "steady-state" ammonium flux following clay addition was 46 ± 2 (SE) % of the initial rates as compared to 81 ± 8% of the initial rates without clay addition. Zebra mussel excretion dominated ammonium regeneration in the inner bay where the bivalve was abundant, but addition of zebra mussel feces/pseudofeces (3.0 g dw/m2) to sediments did not increase ammonium or nitrate flux. Partial nitrification of ammonium at the sediment-water interface was suggested by removal of added 15NH4+ from lake water passing over dark sediment cores. Sediment-water fluxes of nitrogen obtained from flow-through sediment cores resembled those from in situ benthic chambers. However, extended static incubations in gas-tight denitrification chambers caused more of the regenerated nitrogen to be nitrified and denitrified than occurred with the other two measurement systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-97
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


  • Ammonium flux
  • Denitrification
  • Nitrification
  • Saginaw bay
  • Sediment-water nitrogen dynamics
  • Zebra mussels

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