Seasonal variations in dissolved organic carbon concentrations and characteristics in a shallow coastal bay

Elizabeth C. Minor, Jean Paul Simjouw, Margaret R. Mulholland

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41 Scopus citations


Dissolved organic matter (DOM) composition and dynamics in temperate shallow coastal bays are not well described although these bays may be important as local sources of organic carbon to ocean waters and are often sites of economically-important fisheries and aquaculture. In this study surface water samples were collected on a monthly to bi-monthly basis over two years from a mid-Atlantic coastal bay (Chincoteague Bay, Virginia and Maryland, USA). Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations and light absorbance characteristics were measured on sterile-filtered water, and high-molecular weight (> 1 kDa) dissolved OM (DOM) was isolated to determine stable isotope composition and molecular-level characteristics. Our time series encompassed both a drought year (2002) and a year of above-average rainfall (2003). During the dry year, one of our sites developed a very intense bloom of the brown tide organism Aureococcus anophagefferens while during the wet year there were brown tide bloom events at both of our sampling sites. During early spring of the wet year, there were higher concentrations of > 1 kDa DOC; this fraction represented a larger proportion of overall DOC and appeared considerably more allochthonous. Based upon colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) and high-molecular weight DOM analyses, the development of extensive phytoplankton blooms during our sampling period significantly altered the quality of the DOM. Throughout both years Chincoteague Bay had high DOC concentrations relative to values reported for the coastal ocean. This observation, in conjunction with the observed effects of phytoplankton blooms on DOM composition, indicates that Chincoteague Bay may be a significant local source of "recently-fixed" organic carbon to shelf waters. Estimating inputs of DOC from Chincoteague Bay to the Mid-Atlantic Bight suggests that shallow productive bays should be considered in studies of organic carbon on continental shelves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-179
Number of pages14
JournalMarine Chemistry
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 5 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a grant from the US ECOHAB Program to M. Mulholland and E. Minor. The ECOHAB Program is sponsored by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Office of Naval Research. This is contribution number 183 from the US ECOHAB Program. Additional support for E. Minor came from the University of Minnesota Duluth.


  • Aureococcus anophagefferens
  • Characterization
  • Chincoteague Bay
  • Coastal bays
  • Dissolved organic matter
  • Maryland
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Organic carbon
  • Phytoplankton bloom
  • USA
  • Ultrafiltration
  • Virginia


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