Coastal eutrophication in the northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is the primary anthropogenic contributor to the largest zone of hypoxic bottom waters in North America. Although biologically mediated processes such as denitrification (Dn) are known to act as sinks for inorganic nitrogen, it is unknown what contribution denitrification makes to landscape-scale nitrogen budgets along the coast. As the State of Louisiana plans the implementation of a 2012 Coastal Master Plan (MP) to help restore its wetlands and protect its coast, it is critical to understand what effect potential restoration projects may have in altering nutrient budgets. As part of the MP, a spatial statistical approach was developed to estimate nitrogen removal under varying scenarios of future conditions and coastal restoration project implementation. In every scenario of future conditions under which MP implementation was modeled, more nitrogen (NO3- was removed from coastal waters when compared with conditions under which no action is taken. Overall, the MP increased coast-wide average nitrogen removal capacity (NRC) rates by up to 0.55 g N m−2 y−1 compared with the “future without action” (FWOA) scenario, resulting in a conservative estimate of up to 25% removal of the annual NO3- + NO2- load of the Mississippi-Atchafalaya rivers (956,480 t y−1). These results are spatially correlated, with the lower Mississippi River and Chenier Plain exhibiting the greatest change in NRC. Since the implementation of the MP can maintain, and in some regions increase the NRC, our results show the need to preserve the functionality of wetland habitats and use this ecosystem service (i.e. Dn) to decrease eutrophication of the GOM.
Additional publication details
Landscape-level estimation of nitrogen removal in coastal Louisiana wetlands: potential sinks under different restoration scenarios