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Open-File Report 2014–1031

Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service

Nutrient Budgets, Marsh Inundation Under Sea-Level Rise Scenarios, and Sediment Chronologies for the Bass Harbor Marsh Estuary at Acadia National Park

By Thomas G. Huntington, Charles W. Culbertson, Christopher Fuller, Patricia Glibert, and Luke Sturtevant

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (7.11 MB)Abstract

Eutrophication in the Bass Harbor Marsh estuary on Mount Desert Island, Maine, is an ongoing problem manifested by recurring annual blooms of green macroalgae species, principally Enteromorpha prolifera and Enteromorpha flexuosa, blooms that appear in the spring and summer. These blooms are unsightly and impair the otherwise natural beauty of this estuarine ecosystem. The macroalgae also threaten the integrity of the estuary and its inherent functions. The U.S. Geological Survey and Acadia National Park have collaborated for several years to better understand the factors related to this eutrophication problem with support from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service Water Quality Assessment and Monitoring Program. The current study involved the collection of hydrologic and water-quality data necessary to investigate the relative contribution of nutrients from oceanic and terrestrial sources during summer 2011 and summer 2012. This report provides data on nutrient budgets for this estuary, sedimentation chronologies for the estuary and fringing marsh, and estuary bathymetry. The report also includes data, based on aerial photographs, on historical changes from 1944 to 2010 in estuary surface area and data, based on surface-elevation details, on changes in marsh area that may accompany sea-level rise.

The LOADEST regression model was used to calculate nutrient loads into and out of the estuary during summer 2011 and summer 2012. During these summers, tidal inputs of ammonium to the estuary were more than seven times greater than the combined inputs in watershed runoff and precipitation. In 2011 tidal inputs of nitrate were about four times greater than watershed plus precipitation inputs, and in 2012 tidal inputs were only slightly larger than watershed plus precipitation inputs. In 2011, tidal inputs of total organic nitrogen were larger than watershed input by a factor of 1.6. By contrast, in 2012 inputs of total organic nitrogen in watershed runoff were much larger than tidal inputs, by a factor of 3.6. During the 2011 and 2012 summers, tidal inputs of total dissolved phosphorus to the estuary were more than seven times greater than inputs in watershed runoff. It is evident that during the summer tidal inputs of inorganic nitrogen and total dissolved phosphorus to the estuary exceed inputs from watershed runoff and precipitation.

Projected sea-level rise associated with ongoing climate warming will affect the area of land within the Bass Harbor Marsh estuary watershed that is inundated during conditions of mean higher high water and during mean lower low water and hence will affect the vegetation and marsh area. Given 100-centimeter sea-level rise, the inundated area would increase from 25.7 hectares at the current condition to 77.5 hectares at mean higher high water and from 21.6 hectares to 26.7 hectares at mean lower low water. Given 50-centimeter sea-level rise, flooding of the entire marsh surface, which currently occurs only under the highest spring tides, would occur on average every other day.

Radioisotope analysis of sediment cores from the estuary indicates that the sediment accumulation rate increased markedly from 1930 to 1980 and was relatively constant (0.4 to 0.5 centimeter per year) from 1980 to 2009. Similarly, from 1980 to 2009 there was a consistently high mass accumulation rate of 0.09 to 0.11 grams per square centimeter per year. The sediment accretion rates determined for the five cores collected from the marsh surface (east and west sides of the estuary) in 2011 show generally higher rates of 0.20 to 0.29 centimeter per year for the period between 1980 to 2011 than for the period before 1980, when sediment accretion rates were 0.06 to 0.25 centimeter per year.

The data in this report provide resource managers at Acadia National Park with a baseline that can be used to evaluate future conditions within the estuary. Climate change, sea-level rise, and land-use change within the estuary’s watershed may influence nutrient dynamics, sedimentation, and eutrophication, and these potential effects can be studied in relation to the baseline data provided in this report. The Route 102 Bridge in Tremont, Maine is constructed over a sill that controls the amount of tidal flushing by restricting the duration of the flood tide, and structural changes to the bridge could alter tidal nutrient inputs and residence times for watershed and ocean-derived nutrients in the estuary. Ongoing sea-level rise is likely increasing ocean-derived nutrients and their residence time in the estuary on the one hand and decreasing the residence time of watershed-derived nutrients on the other.

First posted May 7, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Office Chief, New England Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Maine Office
196 Whitten Road
Augusta, ME 04330
(207) 622-8201

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Suggested citation:

Huntington, T.G., Culbertson, C.W., Fuller, Christopher, Glibert, Patricia, and Sturtevant, Luke, 2014, Nutrient budgets, marsh inundation under sea-level rise scenarios, and sediment chronologies for the Bass Harbor Marsh estuary at Acadia National Park: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014–1031, 108 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)




Introduction and Background on Nutrient Cycling in Coastal Estuaries

Methods of Measurement, Sampling, and Laboratory Analysis

Methods of Modeling Nutrient Loads with LOADEST

Method of Mapping Current and Historical Estuarine Conditions

Methods of Sediment Coring and Analysis for Determination of Mass and Sediment Accumulation Rates

Water-Quality Data in the Bass Harbor Marsh Estuary and Tributaries

Nutrient Loads in 2011 and 2012 and Turbidity Measurements

Sea-Level Rise and Historical Changes in the Bass Harbor Marsh Estuary

Bass Harbor Marsh Estuary and Marsh Surface Cores: Summary of 210Pb Chronology and Mass Accumulation Rates of Sediment and Organic Matter


References Cited

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