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Nutrients in the Water Column at the

Huntington Beach Pier

 by John Cordrey, Devin Fend, Nick Moore and Derrick Salatnay

Introduction:

There are many important factors that affect life in the ocean, one of which is the nutrient content. Without such nutrients like Nitrite, Nitrate, and Ammonia, life in the ocean would cease to exist. These vital nutrients not only affect life in the ocean, but life on the rest of the planet as well, humans included. It is because of the importance of nutrients, that we decided to test for the amount of nutrients at the surface of the water column at Huntington Beach Pier, to find out what the quality of the water, and estimate the amount of Phytoplankton.

We know that the Phytoplankton count is high due to the Red Tide. We feel, however, that a high count of Phytoplankton will cause nutrient levels to test low because the high levels of phytoplankton in the water will be using up the nutrients.  

Methods:

 The first step, even before we went to the site of our testing, was to build a data sheet that we could easily use.  We created a data sheet that has six columns, and nine rows.  The six columns were labeled as such, salinity, time, water temperature, Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate.  The nine rows that are on the data sheet represent the nine different times that we took measurements of the water column.

At 8:00 a.m.  we walked out two thirds of the way to the end of the pier.  When we were about fifty yards from the end we stopped, and decided to begin our testing at this location.  We first made observations about the weather, the ocean, and the overall environment that we were in.  The first step we did in our project was to set up all the equipment for ready testing.  First we took out all the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals test tubes, and testing tablets, and organized them into three groups, those of which are Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate.  The next step we took was to ready the Lemonte Water Sampler.  We unwound the rope it was attached to, then proceeded to fix the plungers in an open position, by pulling them out of the tube, and placing their hooks onto the ready position hooks at the top of the sampler. 

We recorded the time, and wrote in into our data sheet.  At this time, we slowly lowered the water sampler, off the left side of the pier, into the water column, about six to twelve inches.  We then dropped the triggering device down the rope to the water sampler triggering the plungers to close and trap our water sample inside the sample container.  We slowly pulled the sampler out of the water column, and back up to the pier where we were located.  At this time we poured the contents of our sample into a separate, white plastic, sample container.  We used the Red Sleeve Digital Thermometer to read the temperature of the water sample.  We placed the thermometer into the container with the water sample, and left it there for three to five minutes, and did not remove the thermometer until we were sure that the reading was stable and not changing. 

Next we used a plastic eyedropper to fill each of the test tubes, (Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate).  We then followed the directions given by the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals company as follows:

Ammonia

  1. Fill a clean to the line with water to be tested.

  2. Remove one Ammonia #1 tablet and one #2 tablet from the foil strips and add them to the water sample.  Cap the test tube and shake until both tablets are dissolved.

  3. Wait for five minutes for full color to form.

  4. The closest color match indicates the parts per million (ppm) of total Ammonia (NH3) in the H2O sample.

Nitrite

  1. Fill a clean test tube to the line with water to be tested.

  2. Remove one Nitrite test tablet from foil strip and add to the water sample.  Cap the test tube and shake until tablet dissolves.

  3. Wait five minutes for full color to form.  Then hold the test tube against the white area of the color chart and compare the sample with the printed colors.

  4. The closest color match indicates the parts per million (ppm) of total Nitrite (NO-2) in the H2O sample.

Nitrate

  1. Fill a clean test tube to the line with water to be tested.

  2.  Remove one Nitrate #1 test tablet from the foil strip and add to the water sample.  Cap test tube and shake until dissolved.

  3.  Remove one Nitrate #2 test tablet from the foil strip and add to the water sample.  Cap the test tube and shake vigorously for one minute.

  4.  Let test tube stand undisturbed for five minutes for full color to form.  Hold tube against the white area of the color chart and compare that sample with the printed colors.

  5.  The closest color match indicates the parts per million (ppm) of total nitrate (NO-3) in the H2O sample.

After completing each of the tests, we recorded the readings into our data sheet.  While we were waiting for the chemical tests to fully develop, we tested for salinity, using a refracting salinity tester.  First we would put a drop of the sample water onto the testing surface of the refractor, then close the lid over the testing surface, and point the instrument into the sun.  We looked through the instrument, and read the measurements on the table in the instrument.  Next we took that reading, and multiplied it by a constant that was 8.5.  By doing this multiplication we came up with our readings for salinity.  We recorded this data in our data sheet under salinity.

As a check on accuracy we also used a Hanna Digital thermometer, as well as a Fisher mercury thermometer.  Both thermometers were placed in the sample water, on the fifth sample that we took.  Both thermometers were left in the water sample for three to five minutes, and then their data was recorded.  We also used a Wards Nitrate test kit to double check the accuracy of the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals test kit.  We filled the Wards test tube up with sample water, on the fifth sample taken, and placed the testing chemicals into the water, and then let it sit for ten minutes, to allow for full color development.  This test came up with the same readings that our others test had.

We used these methods each time we took a sample of the water column.  We repeated each of these steps nine times.

Results:

Oceanographic properties change over very short time intervals along the coast.  Tides move in and out, birds come and go, and phytoplankton can move in and out with currents as well as the tides.  At eight a.m. when we first arrived at Huntington Pier we observed that the Red Tide engulfed the entire pier.  The water had a rusty muddy color due to the high concentration of dinoflagellates.

By 8:41 a.m. we could see a boundary between the Red tide, and the normal colored water which was a greenish color.  At this boundary there appeared to be floating debris and bubbles that raced the front side of the Red Tide. 

At 9:31 a.m. the watercolor was back to the normal greenish color, but we could see the Red Tide slowly moving beneath the pier.  Within about ten minutes, at 9:44 a.m., the Red Tide had grown creating large red muddy looking clouds of dinoflagellates. 

At ten a.m. the water once again was back to normal color where we were located, but at the end of the pier the Red Tide had remained.  By 10:37 a.m. the Red Tide began creeping under the pier, at our location.  The Red Tide was slowly moving from the end of the pier, towards the shore.  10:49 a.m. the Red Tide moved out from underneath the pier and the water appeared green again.  At this time the wind began to pick up, blowing off the ocean, creating an onshore breeze.

As our table shows the Ammonia levels ranged from as high as 2.0 ppm to as low as .25 ppm.  The overall average was .69 ppm.  The Ammonia peaked twice at 2.0 ppm at 9:48 a.m., and at 10:48 a.m.  At the first peak (9:48 a.m.) he water was inundated with dinoflagellates, commonly known as Red Tide.  At the other peak time (10:48 a.m.) exactly one hour after the first peak the watercolor had returned to normal, and the tide had moved in, but without the dinoflagellates.  At this time the wind had begun to pick up, blowing east off of the ocean, creating an onshore breeze.

The Nitrate never tested high enough on our scale to register.  All measurements at all times tested at 0 ppm.  Even when we tested with a different test kit, (Wards), we came up with 0ppm.

Discussion:

There are many factors that can affect the concentrations of nutrients in the water column.  In our project we tested for three different nutrients, and all tested in different ranges. 

Ammonia was the nutrient that tested the highest out of all of our tests.  It peaked at 2.0ppm.  There are many reasons why this peak could have happened.  The Ammonia levels could have possibly peaked due to the tides, or from the runoff from the outlet near the pier.  The tide moving in could carry in high levels of Ammonia causing the reading to spike, and creating a possible toxicity level in the water column.  The other possible reason that may have occurred is that the runoff from the outlet was carried towards the pier.  The water from the runoff may have been loaded with Ammonia, also causing the readings to peak.  To find out whether or not either of these hypotheses is true, we should test the runoff at the area where it enters the ocean, up stream, and out to ocean.  This would give us sufficient evidence of any water high in Ammonia levels coming from the runoff.  To test the tides, we would have to take a test as the tide is high, and as the tide is low, to determine whether or not the tides have an affect on the Ammonia level.

The Nitrate in the water column was tested, but came up non-detectable.  This means that the test that we used could not test the Nitrate in smaller quantities than .25ppm.  According to Sean Chamberlin, at the end of a phytoplankton bloom the levels of Nitrate should be low.  As there has been a constant Red Tide at the Huntington Pier we know that there has been a bloom in phytoplankton.  This leads us to believe that high levels of phytoplankton cause the low levels of Nitrate.  As phytoplankton die off, or are carried away by currents and tides the levels of Nitrate should increase.  To find out if this is true, we should test again when the Red Tide is no longer present at the pier, and decide by looking at the data if there is a correlation between Nitrate levels, and the Red Tide.

Nitrite levels test fairly low, averaging .13ppm.  Nitrite was in between Ammonia and Nitrate.  We feel that the reason why Nitrite tested this way is because the water column is in the first stage of the nitrogen cycle.  The nitrogen cycle is a three stage biological occurrence that works to break down detritus and other matter, into usable fertilizers for plants, and phytoplankton.  Ammonia is the first product of the cycle.  In this stage, the first stage, Ammonia will peak, and then slowly decrease.  As the Ammonia is broken down, it is changed into Nitrite.  As more Ammonia is broken down, more Nitrite is produced, causing the levels of Nitrite to increase.  As we can see by the data, Nitrite is still low, so the water column is still in the first stage of the cycle.  But we can predict by the levels of Nitrite in the water column that stage two is about to begin.  Nitrite should start to increase over time.  To prove this theory we would have to test the water column over an extended period of time, and see if the trends in Nitrite levels and the theory correlate.

Salinity is an important part of the ocean�s environment.  As we can see from our data salinity changes slightly, and seems to decrease as the day went on.  Again, there can be many explanations for this, but one that we found plausible was that there were many waterfronts moving in and out while our testing was going on.  It is possible that the fresh water from the runoff was pushing up the beach towards the pier, and the mixture of the two waters caused the decrease of salinity.  There seems to be no connection with salinity and the levels of nutrients in the water.  They both seem to act separate of each other.  One way we could find out if the fronts moved in and out is to test one side of the water column, and then test on the other side of the front.  Depending on the data, we could then discover if there was a difference in salinity between the two water masses.  When to water masses mix, many things and animals seem to congregate at the front.  This causes an almost biological line that we can actually see.  We saw this as the Red Tide would move in and out. 

We tested water clarity, along with the nutrient levels, to determine if there was a correlation between the two.  We discovered that these two things, like salinity and nutrients, act separate of each other.  There are many other things, other than phytoplankton and nutrients, which can affect the clarity of the water.  Things such as sand, and debris, pollution and salt can all affect the clarity of the water.  It is hard to distinguish any true trends between clarity and nutrient levels.  It may be possible to take readings of how many phytoplankton are actually in the water column, and see if the specific number correlates to the clarity of the water.

Tables and Figures:

Table 1: No caption provided.

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

TIME

8:30

8:53

9:09

9:22

9:48

10:07

10:20

10:34

10:48

SECCHI DEPTH (FT)

6

7

           12.16'

10.16

           10.83'

           12.58'

           12.33'

           13.54'

?

SALINITY (PPT)

38.25

37.145

34.85

36.125

36.125

36.125

35.7

36.125

35.7

WATER TEMPERATURE

60.8

59.5

60.2

60.2

61.3

61.5

61.5

61.1

61.5

AMMONIA   (PPM)

0.25

0.25

0.5

0.5

2

0.25

0.25

0.25

2

NITRITE  (PPM)

              N/D

0.25

0.5

N/D

N/D

0.5

N/D

N/D

N/D

NITRATE  (PPM)

N/D

N/D

N/D

N/D

N/D

N/D

N/D

N/D

N/D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* N/D = Not detected

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Data collected by:  John, Nick, Devin and Derrick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Figure 1: No caption provided

Figure 2: No caption provided