Potential P limitation leads to excess N in the pearl river estuarine coastal plume
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There is excess nitrate (NO3) in the Pearl River coastal plume in the southern waters of Hong Kong in summer. We hypothesize that phosphorus (P) limitation controls the utilization of excess NO3 due to the high N:P ratio in the Pearl River. To test this hypothesis, we conducted two 1-day cruises on July 13 and 19, 2000 to examine the response of the phytoplankton to P additions with respect to changes in biomass, uptake of nutrients and nutrient uptake ratios using a batch incubation of natural water samples collected from the Pearl River estuary and adjacent coastal waters. At a station (E1, salinity=5) in the Pearl River estuary, the N/P ratio at the surface was 46:1, (64 mM DIN: 1.3 mMPO4) and decreased to 24:1 (12 mMDIN: 0.5 mMPO4) downstream at a station (Stn 26, salinity=26) in the coastal plume south of Hong Kong. Without a P addition, NO3 in the water samples collected at E1 could not be depleted during a 9 day incubation ( 20 mM NO3 remaining). With a P addition, NO3 disappeared completely on day 6 with the depletion of the added PO4 (2-3 mM). This was also true for a station, E4 (salinity=15) further downstream, but within the estuary. At Stn 26, in the coastal plume south of Hong Kong, NO3 ( 11.5 mM) was eventually depleted without the addition of PO4, but it took 8 days instead of 5 days for Stn E4. The uptake ratio of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) to PO4, without a P addition was 51:1, 43:1 and 46:1 for Stns E1, E4 and 26, respectively. With a P addition, the DIN/PO4 uptake ratio decreased to 20:1, 14:1 and 12:1, respectively, for the 3 stations. These results clearly indicate potential P limitation to utilization of NO3 in the Pearl River estuary, resulting in excess NO3 in waters of the coastal plume downstream of the estuary, some of which would eventually be transported offshore. High uptake ratios of N:P without a P addition (43N:1P) suggest that phytoplankton have a nitrogen uptake capacity in excess of the Redfield ratio of 16N: 1P by 2.5-3 times. The value of 2.5-3 times was likely a maximum that should have contained a contribution of P released from desorption of P from sediments or from regeneration by zooplankton grazing and bacterial activity during the incubation of natural water samples. Without a P addition, however, phytoplankton biomass did not increase. This means that P turnover rates or regeneration may allow phytoplankton to take up additional N in excess of the Redfield ratio and store it, but without increasing the algal biomass. Therefore, high ambient N:P ratios in excess of the Redfield ratio do indicate potential P limitation to phytoplankton biomass in this estuarine coastal ecosystem.
Continental Shelf Research