Influence of water level fluctuation duration and magnitude on sediment-water nutrient exchange in coastal wetlands

A D Steinman, Donald G Uzarski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examined the influence of water-level fluctuation (WLF) on sediment-water nutrient exchange in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Water levels in the Laurentian Great Lakes have been below the long-term mean for the past 15 years, causing the exposure of sediments that previously have been either continuously inundated or periodically exposed. The magnitude, duration, and frequency of WLF, as well as land-use history, each can influence the amount and type of sediment-water nutrient exchange. We collected sediment cores from relatively pristine coastal wetlands located on Beaver and Garden Islands in northern Lake Michigan. Sediment cores were taken from different water depths to simulate WLF magnitude; desiccation time was experimentally manipulated to simulate WLF duration. At these relatively pristine wetlands, desiccation time and water depth significantly influenced flux. However, nutrient exchange did not behave in a consistent fashion; phosphorus, nitrate, ammonium, and sulfate flux varied based on sediment exposure history and desiccation time. Sediment-water nutrient exchange rates also were compared to prior measurements taken from more impacted coastal wetlands in southern Lake Michigan and Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron. This comparison revealed a stronger influence of anthropogenic stress than desiccation time, with impacted wetland sediments releasing more soluble reactive phosphorus, sulfate, and ammonium, and retaining more nitrate, than pristine wetlands. Our results indicate that WLFs have the potential to influence sediment-water nutrient exchange, which may influence system productivity, but environmental context can override this influence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-159
JournalAquatic Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


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