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Nutrient Enrichment in Estuaries from Discharge of Shallow Ground Water, Mt. Desert Island, Maine

March 6, 2008

Nutrient enrichment from atmospheric deposition, agricultural activities, wildlife, and domestic sources is a concern at Acadia National Park because of the potential problem of water-quality degradation and eutrophication in its estuaries. Water-quality degradation has been observed at the Park?s Bass Harbor Marsh estuary but not in Northeast Creek estuary. Previous studies at Acadia National Park have estimated nutrient inputs to estuaries from atmospheric deposition and surface-water runoff, but the importance of shallow ground water that may contain nutrients derived from domestic or other sources is unknown. Northeast Creek and Bass Harbor Marsh estuaries were studied to (1) identify shallow ground-water seeps, (2) assess the chemistry of the water discharged from selected seeps, and (3) assess the chemistry of ground water in shallow ground-water hyporheic zones. The hyporheic zone is defined here as the region beneath and lateral to a stream bed, where there is mixing of shallow ground water and surface water. This study also provides baseline chemical data for ground water in selected bedrock monitoring wells and domestic wells on Mt. Desert Island. Water samples were analyzed for concentrations of nutrients, wastewater compounds, dissolved organic carbon, pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature and specific conductance. Samples from bedrock monitoring wells also were analyzed for alkalinity, major cations and anions, and trace metals. Shallow ground-water seeps to Northeast Creek and Bass Harbor Marsh estuaries at Acadia National Park were identified and georeferenced using aerial infrared digital imagery. Monitoring included the deployment of continuously recording temperature and specific conductance sensors in the seep discharge zone to access marine or freshwater signatures related to tidal flooding, gradient-driven shallow ground-water flow, or shallow subsurface flow related to precipitation events.

Many potential shallow ground-water discharge zones were identified from aerial thermal imagery during flights in May and December 2003 in both estuaries. The occurrence of ground-water seeps was confirmed using continuous and discrete measurements of temperature and specific conductance in selected seeps and in the adjacent estuaries that showed salinity anomalies reflecting the input of freshwater in these complex tidal systems. Analysis of water samples from shallow ground water in the hyporheic zone and from ground-water seeps indicated the presence of elevated concentrations of dissolved nitrogen, compared to concentrations in the adjacent estuaries and surface-water tributaries draining into the estuaries. These findings indicate that shallow ground water is a source of dissolved nitrogen to the estuaries. Orthophosphate levels were low in ground water in the hyporheic zone in Bass Harbor Marsh, but somewhat higher in one hyporheic-zone well in Northeast Creek compared with the concentrations in both estuaries that were at or below detection limits. Household wastewater-related compounds were not detected in ground water in the hyporheic zone. Analysis of water samples from domestic and bedrock monitoring wells developed in fractured bedrock indicated that concentrations of dissolved nitrogen, phosphorus, and household wastewater-related compounds were typically at or below detection, suggesting that the aquifers sampled had not been contaminated from septic sources.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2007
Title Nutrient Enrichment in Estuaries from Discharge of Shallow Ground Water, Mt. Desert Island, Maine
DOI 10.3133/sir20075188
Authors Charles W. Culbertson, Thomas G. Huntington, James M. Caldwell
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2007-5188
Index ID sir20075188
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Maine Water Science Center