The relative importance of oceanic nutrient inputs for Bass Harbor Marsh Estuary at Acadia National Park, Maine

Scientific Investigations Report 2014-5123
Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service
By: , and 



The U.S. Geological Survey and Acadia National Park (ANP) collaborated on a study of nutrient inputs into Bass Harbor Marsh Estuary on Mount Desert Island, Maine, to better understand ongoing eutrophication, oceanic nutrient inputs, and potential management solutions. This report includes the estimation of loads of nitrate, ammonia, total dissolved nitrogen, and total dissolved phosphorus to the estuary derived from runoff within the watershed and oceanic inputs during summers 2011 and 2012. Nutrient outputs from the estuary were also monitored, and nutrient inputs in direct precipitation to the estuary were calculated. Specific conductance, water temperature, and turbidity were monitored at the estuary outlet. This report presents a first-order analysis of the potential effects of projected sea-level rise on the inundated area and estuary volume. Historical aerial photographs were used to investigate the possibility of widening of the estuary channel over time. The scope of this report also includes analysis of sediment cores collected from the estuary and fringing marsh surfaces to assess the sediment mass accumulation rate.

Median concentrations of nitrate, ammonium, and total dissolved phosphorus on the flood tide were approximately 25 percent higher than on the ebb tide during the 2011 and 2012 summer seasons. Higher concentrations on the flood tide suggest net assimilation of these nutrients in biota within the estuary. The dissolved organic nitrogen fraction dominated the dissolved nitrogen fraction in all tributaries. The median concentration of dissolved organic nitrogen was about twice as high on the on the ebb tide than the flood tide, indicating net export of dissolved organic nitrogen from the estuary.

The weekly total oceanic inputs of nitrate, ammonium, and total dissolved phosphorus to the estuary were usually much larger than inputs from runoff or direct precipitation. The estuary was a net sink for nitrate and ammonium in most weeks during both years. Oceanic inputs of nitrate and ammonium were an important source of inorganic nitrogen to the estuary in both years. In both years, the total seasonal inputs of ammonium to the estuary in flood tides were much larger than the inputs from watershed runoff or direct precipitation. In 2011, the total seasonal input of nitrate from flood tides to the estuary was more than twice as large the inputs from watershed runoff and precipitation, but in 2012, the inputs from flood tides were only marginally larger than the inputs from watershed runoff and precipitation. Turbidity was measured intermittently in 2012, and the pattern that emerged from the measurements indicated that the estuary was a source of particulate matter to the ocean rather than the ocean being a source to the estuary.

From the nutrient budgets determined for the estuary it is evident that oceanic sources of nitrate and ammonium are an important part of the supply of nutrients that are contributing to the growth of macroalgae in the estuary. The relative importance of these oceanic nutrients compared with sources within the watershed typically increases as the summer progresses and runoff decreases. It is likely that rising sea levels, estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be 11 centimeters from 1950 through 2006 in nearby Bar Harbor, have resulted in an increase in oceanic inputs (tidal volume and nutrients derived from oceanic sources).

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title The relative importance of oceanic nutrient inputs for Bass Harbor Marsh Estuary at Acadia National Park, Maine
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2014-5123
DOI 10.3133/sir20145123
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) New England Water Science Center
Description vii, 19 p.
Country United States
State Maine
Other Geospatial Acadia National Park;Bass Harbor Marsh;Mount Desert Island
Scale 24000
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details