Algal Accumulation Decreases Sediment Nitrogen Removal by Uncoupling Nitrification-Denitrification in Shallow Eutrophic Lakes


In eutrophic lakes, the decay of settled algal biomass generates organic carbon and consumes oxygen, favoring sediment nitrogen loss via denitrification. However, persistent winds can cause algae to accumulate into dense mats, with uncertain impacts on sediment nitrogen removal. In this study, we investigated the effects of algal accumulation on sediment nitrogen removal in a shallow and eutrophic Chinese lake, Taihu. We found that experimental treatments of increased algal accumulation were associated with decreased sediment nitrogen losses, indicating the potential for a break in coupled nitrification-denitrification. Likewise, field measurements indicated similar decreases in sediment nitrogen losses when algal accumulation occurred. It is possibly caused by the decay of excess algal biomass, which likely depleted dissolved oxygen, and could have inhibited nitrification and thereby denitrification in sediments. We estimate that if such algal accumulations occurred over 20% or 10% of lake area in Taihu, sediment nitrogen removal rates decreased from 835.6 to 167.2 and 77.2 μmol N m–2h–1, respectively, during algal accumulation period. While nitrogen removal may recover later, the apparent nitrogen removal decrease may create a window for algal proliferation and intensification. This study advances our knowledge on the impacts of algal blooms on nitrogen removal in shallow eutrophic lakes.
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