Hypoxia dynamics and spatial distribution in a low gradient river
Deoxygenation of aquatic ecosystems is a key feature of the Anthropocene. Studies are increasingly reporting low oxygen conditions in rivers and headwater streams even in the absence of high nutrient loads. We examined the frequency of river hypoxia (dissolved oxygen [DO] < 50% saturated in O2) in the North Carolina Piedmont by examining monitoring records collected since the 1960s, and by collecting high-resolution measurements of DO saturation along a 20 km segment of New Hope Creek. State records reported nearly 11,000 incidences of hypoxia from a total of ~ 140,000 measurements (7.8% over 55 yr). In contrast, our measurements in New Hope Creek suggest that assessing river hypoxia from point measurements is highly problematic. We propose new approaches for evaluating and comparing river oxygen regimes. In a detailed longitudinal survey of DO in May 2018, 31% of measurements over 20 km were hypoxic. Over a 3-week period, 11 of our 12 sites throughout this segment experienced hypoxia 5%–96% of the time. Interannual comparisons for several long-term monitoring sites document significant potential for hypoxia even in well-aerated reaches during particularly warm, low flow periods. Oxygen regimes within this river vary between near continuous hypoxia to near continuous saturation and call into question the binary distinction between lotic and lentic oxygen dynamics with which we tend to categorize and model freshwater ecosystems.
Carter, AM; Blaszczak, JR; Heffernan, JB; Bernhardt, ES
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