phycology diatom logo Phycology Section, Patrick Center for Environmental Research

Piedmont Streams in New Jersey

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Understanding the Relationship Between Natural Conditions and Loadings on Eutrophication: Algal Indicators of Eutrophication for New Jersey Streams

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Project description

The Patrick Center's Phycology Section is developing algal indicators of stream and river eutrophication for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP). These indicators will be designed to assess relationships between extant water quality criteria (e.g., phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations) and overt signs of eutrophication. They could potentially be applied in a regulatory context as secondary criteria for identifying nutrient impairment. These indicators will be based on our understanding of algal dynamics in New Jersey streams, and should distinguish between situations in which nutrient concentrations are high due to natural environmental conditions and those that result from anthropogenic influences.

This study was initiated in July 2000. Years 1 and 2 of this project were limited to development of algal indicators in the Piedmont physiographic province in New Jersey. Year 3 of the program expanded the study to include sites in the Highlands and Ridge and Valley physiological provinces. Year 4 added the Inner Coastal Plain. Data from sites studied all four years will be used to develop and test indicator metrics.

Site selection, field collections, and sample analysis

During the first study year, 30 streams were sampled in September 2000 for diatoms, soft-algae and water chemistry. During August 2001, we collected additional samples to supplement the original set, and to test the indicators developed during the first year at impaired river segments, identified by the NJ DEP. Diatom composite samples and quantitative samples for measurement of chlorophyll a and ash-free dry mass (AFDM) were collected. We collected samples from natural rock substrates (pdf of field sample procedure) using techniques consistent with those used in the USGS NAWQA program and the EPA Rapid Assessment protocols for periphyton. Water chemistry samples were taken and NO3-N, NH3-N, O-P and TP, chloride, total alkalinity, total hardness and conductivity were measured by the PCER Environmental Biogeochemistry Section. Diatom samples were analyzed using NAWQA protocols. Soft algae were identified and abundances analyzed semi-quantitatively (pdf of soft algae protocol).

Data analysis

We are analyzing data (assemblage composition) from the completed diatom counts and soft algae analysis to develop a phosphorus inference model and to calibrate basic water quality metrics. Preliminary results were presented at the North American Diatom Symposium (NADS) held in Ely, Minnesota on September 19 -22, 2001. More detailed analysis were presented at the North American Benthological Symposium (NABS) held in Pittsburgh, PA on May 28-June1, 2002 and the International Diatom Symposium (IDS) held in Ottawa, Canada from August 25-31, 2002.

For more information please contact:
Don Charles at
Tom Belton at

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