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Simulated global coastal ecosystem responses to a half-century increase in river nitrogen loads

August 30, 2022

Coastal ecosystems are increasingly threatened by anthropogenic stressors such as harmful algal blooms and hypoxia projected to intensify through the combined effects of eutrophication and warming. As a major terrestrial nitrogen (N) source to the ocean, rivers play a critical role in shaping both coastal and global biogeochemical cycling. Combining an enhanced-resolution (1/4°), global ocean physical-biogeochemical model with dynamic river inputs, we estimate that elevated river nitrogen loads alone resulted in an increase of 16.6 Tg (+5.8%) in the global coastal nitrogen inventory (CNI) over the half century between 1961 and 2010. This change was accompanied by increases in coastal net primary productivity (NPP, +4.6%) and benthic detrital flux (BDF, +7.3%), the latter of which is indicative of an overall higher oxygen demand in coastal sediments. After normalization by area, the ecosystems most sensitive to added river nitrogen (g N m-2 yr-1) were those with long residence times and strong nitrogen limitation. While even enhanced-resolution global models remain limited in their capacity to resolve near-shore responses, these basic sensitivity factors provide two relevant axes for frameworks assessing the comparative susceptibility of globally distributed coastal ecosystems to enhanced nitrogen loading, and the effectiveness of mitigation strategies.

Publication Year 2022
Title Simulated global coastal ecosystem responses to a half-century increase in river nitrogen loads
DOI 10.1029/2021GL094367
Authors Xiao Liu, Charles A. Stock, John P. Dunne, Minjin Lee, Elena Shevliakova, Sergey Malyshev, Paul C. D. Milly
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geophysical Research Letters
Index ID 70236156
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Integrated Modeling and Prediction Division