Sedimentary and water column processes in the Oyster Grounds: A potentially hypoxic region of the North Sea

K Weston, L Fernand, J Nicholls, A Marca-Bell, D Mills, D Sivyer, M Trimmer

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The purpose of this research was to investigate the potential causes of low oxygen levels in the bottom water of the Oyster Grounds region of the shallow southern North Sea, an area which provides suitable conditions for low oxygen levels to develop. At the end of the summer stratified period, relevant biogeochemical processes were investigated using a combination of sedimentary and water column rate measurements. Phytoplankton nitrate and ammonium uptake was measured throughout the water column using 15N labelled isotopes and showed ammonium uptake dominated in the upper and bottom mixed layer with a maximum 294.4 µmol N m-3 h-1. In the deep chlorophyll maximum at the thermocline, primary production was dominated by nitrate uptake, with an average of 35.0 µmol N m-3 h-1, relative to ammonium uptake, with an average of 24.6 µmol N m-3 h-1. This high relative nitrate uptake will in part result in exportable new production to the isolated bottom mixed layer and sediments, as opposed to regenerated ammonium driven uptake. This biomass export was indicated by significant benthic oxygen consumption rates in the stratified region (782-1275 µmol O2 m-2 h-1 µmol N m-3 h-1) long after the end of the spring bloom. The sediments were also an active net source of nitrate, ammonium, phosphate and silicate into the bottom mixed layer of 4.4, 8.4, 2.3 and 68.8 µmol m-2 h-1, respectively. The export of new production within the thermocline to the bottom mixed layer and the consequent sediment oxygen consumption in the isolated bottom mixed layer in the Oyster Grounds are expected to have contributed to the low bottom water oxygen concentrations of 2.07 mg l-1 (64.7 µmol l-1) measured. The long stratified period associated with this low oxygen is predicted to occur more regularly in the future and continued monitoring of this ecologically important region is therefore essential if the causes of these potentially damaging low oxygen levels are to be fully understood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-249
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Environmental Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008

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