A review of land–sea coupling by groundwater discharge of nitrogen to New England estuaries: Mechanisms and effects

Applied Geochemistry

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Abstract

Hydrologists have long been concerned with the interface of groundwater flow into estuaries, but not until the end of the last century did other disciplines realize the major role played by groundwater transport of nutrients to estuaries. Mass balance and stable isotopic data suggest that land-derived NO3, NH4, and dissolved organic N do enter estuaries in amounts likely to affect the function of the receiving ecosystem. Because of increasing human occupancy of the coastal zone, the nutrient loads borne by groundwater have increased in recent decades, in spite of substantial interception of nutrients within the land and aquifer components of watersheds. Groundwater-borne nutrient loads have increased the N content of receiving estuaries, increased phytoplankton and macroalgal production and biomass, decreased the area of seagrasses, and created a cascade of associated ecological changes. This linkage between land use and eutrophication of estuaries occurs in spite of mechanisms, including uptake of land-derived N by riparian vegetation and fringing wetlands, “unloading” by rapid water removal, and direct N inputs to estuaries, that tend to uncouple the effects of land use on receiving estuaries. It can be expected that as human activity on coastal watersheds continues to increase, the role of groundwater-borne nutrients to the receiving estuary will also increase.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A review of land–sea coupling by groundwater discharge of nitrogen to New England estuaries: Mechanisms and effects
Series title Applied Geochemistry
DOI 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2006.09.002
Volume 22
Issue 1
Year Published 2007
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 17 p.
First page 175
Last page 191
Country United States
Other Geospatial New England