Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program

Earth and Oceanographic Science

First Advisor

Collin Roesler


Phytoplankton underpin marine trophic systems and biogeochemical cycles. Estuarine and coastal phytoplankton account for 40-50% of global ocean primary productivity and carbon flux making it critical to identify sources of variability. This project focuses on the Kennebec River and Harpswell Sound, a downstream, but hydrologically connected coastal estuary, as a case study of temperate river influence on estuarine nutrient regimes and phytoplankton communities. Phytoplankton pigments and nutrients were analyzed from water samples collected monthly at 8 main-stem rivers stations (2011-2013) and weekly in Harpswell Sound (2008-2017) during ice-free months. Spatial bedrock and land use impacts on river nutrients were investigated at sub-watershed scales using GIS. Spatial analysis reveals a 10-fold increase in measured phytoplankton biomass across the Kennebec River’s saltwater boundary, which demonstrates ocean-driven phytoplankton variability in the lower river. The biomass pattern is accompanied by a transition in phytoplankton community structure with respect to which groups co-occur (diatoms, chlorophytes, and cryptophytes) and which are unique (dinoflagellates in Harpswell). Upstream, the timing of each community depends on land-use proximity and seasonal discharge. In Harpswell Sound, the nutrient regime and phytoplankton community structure vary systematically: first diatoms strip silicate, then dinoflagellates utilize nitrate, followed by chlorophytes and cryptophytes that utilize available phosphate. These findings reveal, for the first time, patterns in phytoplankton communities and nutrient dynamics across the fresh to salt water interface. Ultimately the Kennebec River phytoplankton communities and nutrient regimes are distinct, and the river is only a source of silicate to Harpswell Sound.