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The Fate of Anthropogenic Nitrogen in a Redox Stratified Pond: An Isotopic Approach

Luciana Villarroel, S.M., 2022
Scott Wankel, Advisor

The environmental effects of both increased urbanization and eutrophication are of growing global concern. Coastal areas, like those found on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, often experience severe impacts associated with the biogeochemical effects accompanying increased nitrogen pollution. Cape Cod is home to roughly 1,000 ponds and lakes which play an important role in local ecosystems, but the cycling of nitrogen in these waters is not well understood. The goal of this research is to identify the major biogeochemical cycling processes responsible for the fate of nitrogen in a nitrogen-rich, coastal, stratified pond. The investigation was carried out through regular high-resolution measurement and monitoring of environmental conditions, nitrogen speciation, and isotopic composition over the course of a summer. Elevated nitrogen concentrations coupled with strong redox gradients make Siders Pond an ideal place for studying dynamics of nitrogen transformations, giving insight into nitrogen retention or removal, which influence water quality. These data demonstrate significant dissolved nitrogen loss from the pond over the course of the summer as well as internal nitrogen cycling that promotes dissolved nitrogen accumulation to extreme levels in the deepest depths. The physical dynamics of mixing promote a coupling of nitrification and denitrification across this redox gradient, driving N loss while also supplying the sunlit waters with nutrient-rich deep water. A simple time-resolved box model suggests that approximately 50% of the upwardly delivered N is removed, while the other portion supports recycling through photosynthetic uptake. While dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) is widely considered refractory material and is rarely measured or reported in environmental studies, here there is evidence for a large and dynamic pool of DON within Siders Pond suggesting important dynamics between organic and inorganic pools in regulating N loss. While nitrate is a commonly used measurement for assessing N contamination, this work highlights the parallel importance of monitoring additional species (including ammonium and DON) for determining eutrophication/contamination. A deeper understanding of Siders Pond can be used to elucidate nitrogen cycling dynamics in analogous redox-stratified systems, including other lakes and ponds, or modern ocean regions such as the Santa Barbara and Cariaco Basins and the Baltic and Black Seas.