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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science




Particulate inorganic matter (PIM) is a key component in estuarine and coastal systems and plays a critical role in trace metal cycling. Better understanding of coastal dynamics and biogeochemistry re-quires improved quantification of PIM in terms of its concentration, size distribution, and mineral species composition. The angular pattern of light scattering contains detailed information about the size and composition of particles. These volume scattering functions (VSFs) were measured in Mobile Bay, Alabama, USA, a dynamic, PIM dominated coastal environment. From measured VSFs, we determined through inversion the particle size distributions (PSDs) of major components of PIM, amorphous silica and clay minerals. An innovation here is the extension of our reported PSDs significantly into the sub-micron range. The PSDs of autochthonous amorphous silica exhibit two unique features: a peak centered at about 0.8mm between 0.2 and 4mm and a very broad shoulder essentially extending from 4mm to>100mm. With an active and steady particle source from blooming diatoms, the shapes of amorphoussilica PSDs for sizes area, but showed more particles of sizes>10mm inside the bay, likely due to wind-induced resuspension of larger frustules that have settled. Compared to autochthonous amorphous silica, the allochthonous clay minerals are denser and exhibit relatively narrower PSDs with peaks located between 1 and 4mm. Preferential settling of larger mineral particles as well as the smaller but denser illite component further narrowed the size distributions of clay minerals as they were being transported outside the bay. The derived PSDs also indicated a very dynamic situation in Mobile Bay when a cold weather front passed through during the experiment. With northerly winds of speeds up to 15 m s-1, both amorphous silica and clay minerals showed a dramatic increase in concentration and broadening in size distribution outside the exit of the barrier islands, indicative of wind-induced resuspension and subsequent advection of particles out of Mobile Bay. While collectively recognized as the PIM, amorphous silica and clay minerals, as shown in this study, possess very different size distributions. Considering how differences in PSDs and the associated particle areas will effect differences in sorption/desorption properties of these components, the results also demonstrate thepotential of applying VSF-inversion in studying biogeochemistry in the estuarine-coastal ocean system.

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