Sources of Hypoxia in Mississippi Delta Streams

Author(s): Lizotte, R.

Rivers and streams in watersheds with intensive row-crop agriculture are vulnerable to ecological impairment associated with non-point source runoff. Agricultural watersheds impacted by elevated nutrients can exhibit eutrophication, producing periods of severe oxygen stress or hypoxia (dissolved oxygen concentrations<2 mg/L). Additional factors such as hydrology and channel morphology as well as sporadic influxes of dissolved organic matter (sometimes referred to as blackwater) can exacerbate oxygen stress. From 2011-2017, we monitored biweekly summer and fall nutrients (total nitrogen and total phosphorus), chlorophyll α, dissolved organic carbon, and daily dissolved oxygen (one-week deployments) within three low-gradient, low-flow stream bayous in the Mississippi Delta. Eutrophication-induced hypoxia exhibited diel dissolved oxygen patterns with hypoxia primarily occurring during late night to early morning hours throughout the summer months. Periods of eutrophication-induced hypoxia lasted an average of 29 h or 17% of a 168 h (one-week) deployment period. In contrast, blackwater-induced hypoxia occurred sporadically following intense rainfall events typically >25.4 mm falling on dry row-crops prior to harvest (late summer to early fall) producing dissolved organic matter-laden runoff and dissolved oxygen sags. Periods of blackwater-induced hypoxia lasted an average of 84 h or 50% of a one-week deployment period. Classification and Regression Tree (CART) analysis of eutrophication-induced hypoxia produced a model indicating that stream morphology as channel width and elevated nutrients and total nitrogen worsened hypoxic conditions. CART analysis of blackwater-induced hypoxia produced a model indicating that elevated dissolved organic matter, decreased water depth and inhibition of photosynthesis worsened hypoxic conditions. Monitoring results indicate that reduction of both nutrients and sporadic dissolved organic matter pulsed inputs to low-flow Mississippi Delta streams is necessary to help mitigate hypoxic conditions and improve summer to fall dissolved oxygen concentrations in agricultural streams.

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