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Novel Analyses of Long-Term Data Provide a Scientific Basis for Chlorophyll-a Thresholds in San Francisco Bay
Sutula, M., R. Kudela, Jim Hagy, L. Harding, D. Senn, J. Cloern, S. Bricker, G. Berg, AND M. Beck. Novel Analyses of Long-Term Data Provide a Scientific Basis for Chlorophyll-a Thresholds in San Francisco Bay. ESTUARINE, COASTAL AND SHELF SCIENCE. Elsevier Science Ltd, New York, NY, 197:107-118, (2017).
This paper develops empirical linkages between chlorophyll-a levels in San Francisco Bay and ecological responses associated with adverse effects on aquatic life and humans, including low dissolved oxygen, HAB abundance and HAB toxin levels. The analyses provide a scientific basis for evaluating the degree of nutrient impairment of San Francisco Bay, which may help resource managers decide if and when actions may be required to reduce nutrient inputs.
San Francisco Bay (SFB), USA, is highly enriched in nitrogen and phosphorus, but has been resistant to the classic symptoms of eutrophication associated with over-production of phytoplankton. Observations in recent years suggest that this resistance may be weakening, shown by: significant increases of chlorophyll-a (chl-a) and decreases of dissolved oxygen (DO), common occurrences of phytoplankton taxa that can form Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), and algal toxins in water and mussels reaching levels of concern. As a result, managers now ask: what levels of chl-a in SFB constitute tipping points of phytoplankton biomass beyond which water quality will become degraded, requiring significant nutrient reductions to avoid impairments? We analyzed data for DO, phytoplankton species composition, chl-a, and algal toxins to derive quantitative relationships between three indicators (HAB abundance, toxin concentrations, DO) and chl-a. Quantile regressions relating HAB abundance and DO to chl-a were significant, indicating SFB is at increased risk of adverse HAB and low DO levels if chl-a continues to increase. Conditional probability analysis (CPA) showed chl-a of 13 mg m−3 as a “protective” threshold below which probabilities for exceeding alert levels for HAB abundance and toxins were reduced. This threshold was similar to chl-a of 13–16 mg m−3 that would meet a SFB-wide 80% saturation Water Quality Criterion (WQC) for DO. Higher “at risk” chl-a thresholds from 25 to 40 mg m−3 corresponded to 0.5 probability of exceeding alert levels for HAB abundance, and for DO below a WQC of 5.0 mg L−1 designated for lower South Bay (LSB) and South Bay (SB). We submit these thresholds as a basis to assess eutrophication status of SFB and to inform nutrient management actions. This approach is transferrable to other estuaries to derive chl-a thresholds protective against eutrophication.
Record Details:Record Type: DOCUMENT (JOURNAL/PEER REVIEWED JOURNAL)
Organization:U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
NATIONAL HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS RESEARCH LABORATORY
GULF ECOLOGY DIVISION