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Nitrogen and phosphorus sources and delivery from the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin: An update using 2012 SPARROW models

February 26, 2021

Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) inputs throughout the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) have been linked to the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia and water‐quality problems throughout the MARB. To describe N and P loading throughout the MARB, SPAtially Referenced Regression On Watershed attributes (SPARROW) models were previously developed based on nutrient inputs and management similar to 1992 and 2002. In this study, refined SPARROW models were developed with higher resolution basin delineation, updated (2012) source inputs, improved calibration (load) targets, and additional statistical techniques than used in the previous SPARROW models. Based on the refined models, consistent with past models, N and P loads/yields were the highest from the central part of the MARB (Corn Belt) and along the Mississippi River. Agricultural activities remained the most important N and P source, but more so for N because its input, which could now be distinguished from atmospheric deposition, could be estimated. Natural loss of P from geologic material throughout the MARB was an important source, contributing about 23% of the total P from the MARB, and resulted in specific areas, such as Kentucky and Tennessee, being larger sources of P than previously estimated. This information can help managers decide where efforts will have the largest effects (highest ranked areas) on reducing nutrient loading to the Gulf hypoxia and what are the most important sources of N and P in these areas.