Decadal-scale export of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from the Susquehanna River basin, USA: Analysis and synthesis of temporal and spatial patterns

Science of the Total Environment
By: , and 



The export of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and suspended sediment (SS) is a long-standing management concern for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, USA. Here we present a comprehensive evaluation of nutrient and sediment loads over the last three decades at multiple locations in the Susquehanna River basin (SRB), Chesapeake's largest tributary watershed. Sediment and nutrient riverine loadings, including both dissolved and particulate fractions, have generally declined at all sites upstream of Conowingo Dam (non-tidal SRB outlet). Period-of-record declines in riverine yield are generally smaller than those in source input, suggesting the possibility of legacy contributions. Consistent with other watershed studies, these results reinforce the importance of considering lag time between the implementation of management actions and achievement of river quality improvement. Whereas flow-normalized loadings for particulate species have increased recently below Conowingo Reservoir, those for upstream sites have declined, thus substantiating conclusions from prior studies about decreased reservoir trapping efficiency. In regard to streamflow effects, statistically significant log-linear relationships between annual streamflow and annual constituent load suggest the dominance of hydrological control on the inter-annual variability of constituent export. Concentration-discharge relationships revealed general chemostasis and mobilization effects for dissolved and particulate species, respectively, both suggesting transport-limitation conditions. In addition to affecting annual export rates, streamflow has also modulated the relative importance of dissolved and particulate fractions, as reflected by its negative correlations with dissolved P/total P, dissolved N/total N, particulate P/SS, and total N/total P ratios. For land-use effects, period-of-record median annual yields of N, P, and SS all correlate positively with the area fraction of non-forested land but negatively with that of forested land under all hydrological conditions. Overall, this work has informed understanding with respect to four major factors affecting constituent export (i.e., source input, reservoir modulation, streamflow, and land use) and demonstrated the value of long-term river monitoring.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Decadal-scale export of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from the Susquehanna River basin, USA: Analysis and synthesis of temporal and spatial patterns
Series title Science of the Total Environment
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.104
Volume 563-564
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Virginia Water Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 1016
Last page 1029
Country United States
State Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania
Other Geospatial Chesapeake Bay, Susquehanna River
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