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Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Dec 15;41(24):8227-32.

Enterococci concentrations in diverse coastal environments exhibit extreme variability.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Environmental and Water Studies, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-4020, USA.


Fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) concentrations in a single grab sample of water are used to notify the public about the safety of swimming in coastal waters. If concentrations are over a single-sample standard, waters are closed or placed under an advisory. Previous work has shown that notification errors occur often because FIB vary more quickly than monitoring results can be obtained (typically 24 h). Rapid detection technologies (such as quantitative polymerase chain reaction) that allow FIB quantification in hours have been suggested as a solution to notification errors. In the present study, I explore variability of enterococci (ENT) over time scales less than a day that might affect interpretation of FIB concentrations from a single grab sample, even if obtained rapidly. Five new data sets of ENT collected at 10 and 1 min periodicities for 24 and 1 h, respectively, are presented. Data sets are collected in diverse marine environments from a turbulent surf zone to a quiescent bay. ENT vary with solar and tidal cycles, as has been observed in previous studies. Over short time scales, ENT are extremely variable in each environment even the quiescent bay. Changes in ENT concentrations between consecutive samples (1 or 10 min apart) greater than the single-sample standard (104 most probable number per 100 mL) are not unusual. Variability, defined as the change in concentration between consecutive samples, is not distinct between environments. ENT change by 60% on average between consecutive samples, and by as much as 700%. Spectral analyses reveal no spectral peaks, but power-law decline of spectral density with frequency. Power-law exponents are close to 1 suggesting ENT time series share properties with 1/f noise and are fractal in nature. Since fractal time series have no characteristic time scale associated with them, it is not obvious how the fractal nature of ENT can be exploited for adaptive sampling or management. Policy makers, as well as scientists designing field campaigns for microbial source tracking and epidemiology studies, are cautioned that a single sample of water reveals little about the true water quality at a beach. Multiple samples must be taken to gain a snapshot into the patchy structure of microbial water quality and associated human health risk.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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