Response of three paleo-primary production proxy measures to development of an urban estuary

G. L. Chmura, A. Santos, V. Pospelova, Z. Spasojevic, R. Lam, J. S. Latimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


In this study we present a novel comparison of three proxy indicators of paleoproductivity, pigments, biogenic silica (BSi), and cysts of autotrophic dinoflagellates measured in cored sediments from New Bedford Harbor, Massachusetts. In addition to detailed historical reports we use palynological signals of land clearance, changes in the ratio of centric and pennate diatoms, sedimentary organic carbon and stable carbon isotopes to constrain our interpretations. Our study spans the period from prior to European settlement to ∼1977, during which watersheds were cleared, port development occurred and much of the coastal property became industrialized. The combined effects of nutrient loading from watershed clearance and urban sewage on the estuarine ecosystem shifted not only levels of primary production, but also the nature of the production. Our proxies show that when European colonists first arrived the estuarine production was benthic-dominated, but eventually became pelagic-dominated. Importance of water column production (by diatoms and dinoflagellates) rapidly increased as soil nitrogen was released following forest clearance. Stabilization in rates of forest clearance is reflected as a decline in production. However, population increases in the urbanizing watershed brought new sources of nutrients through direct sewage discharge, apparently again stimulating primary production. We assume that early 20th century changes in sewage discharge and introduction of heavy metals into Harbor waters caused a temporary reduction in primary production. The introduction of a new sewer outfall near the core site and changes in estuarine hydrography due to construction of a hurricane barrier across the mouth of the harbor are reflected by renewed water column production, but decreases in the population of diatoms and dinoflagellates. Fossil pigments suggest renewed water column production in the latest years recorded by our sediment core.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-243
Number of pages19
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Mar 29 2004
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the following EPA scientists who have contributed to this research program: W. Boothman, S. Nelson, C. Pesch, B. Bergen, and C Strobel, as well as J.T. Turner for discussions critical to development of this manuscript. Support for this research was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Fonds pour la Formation de Chercheurs et l'aide à la Recherche (FCAR) of Quebec.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Algal blooms
  • Benthic algae
  • Buzzards Bay
  • Forest clearance
  • Industrialization
  • Phytoplankton
  • Pollution
  • Urbanization

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