Phytoplankton abundance and contributions to suspended particulate matter in the Ohio, Upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers


Main channel habitats of the Ohio, Missouri, and Upper Mississippi Rivers were surveyed during the summers of 2004, 2005 and 2006 using a probability-based sampling design to characterize inter-annual and inter-river variation in suspended chlorophyll a (CHLa) and related variables. Large (fivefold) differences in CHLa were observed with highest concentrations in the Upper Mississippi (32.3 ± 1.8 μg L−1), intermediate values in the Missouri (19.7 ± 1.1 μg L−1) and lowest concentrations in the Ohio (6.8 ± 0.5 μg L−1). Inter-annual variation was small in comparison to inter-river differences suggesting that basin-specific factors exert greater control over river-wide CHLa than regional-scale processes influencing climate and discharge. The rivers were characterized by variable but generally low light conditions as indicated by depth-averaged underwater irradiance <4 E m−2 day−1 and high ratios of channel depth to euphotic depth (>3). Despite poor light conditions, regression analyses revealed that TP was the best single predictor of CHLa (R 2 = 0.40), though models incorporating both light and TP performed better (R 2 = 0.60). Light and nutrient conditions varied widely within rivers and were inversely related, suggesting that riverine phytoplankton may experience shifts in resource limitation during transport. Inferred grazing and sedimentation losses were large yet CHLa concentrations did not decline downriver indicating that growth and loss processes were closely coupled. The contribution by algae to suspended particulate organic matter in these rivers (mean = 41%) was similar to that of lakes (39%) but lower relative to reservoirs (61%).



Document Type




Publication Date


Journal Title

Aquatic Sciences