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Vulnerability of estuarine systems in the contiguous United States to water quality change under future climate and land-use

February 23, 2023

Changes in climate and land-use and land-cover (LULC) are expected to influence surface water runoff and nutrient characteristics of estuarine watersheds, but the extent to which estuaries are vulnerable to altered nutrient loading under future conditions is poorly understood. The present work aims to address this gap through the development of a new vulnerability assessment framework that accounts for (a) estuarine exposure to projected changes in total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) loads as a function of LULC and climate change under several scenarios, (b) sensitivity, and (c) adaptive capacity. The framework was applied to 112 estuaries and their contributing watersheds across the contiguous U.S., specifically to look at regional variability in estuarine vulnerability to nutrient loading. Study findings revealed that the largest increases in estuarine nutrient loads are expected in the North and South Atlantic regions and eastern Gulf of Mexico, while the lowest increases are expected in the North and South Pacific regions and the western Gulf of Mexico. However, the North Atlantic and the South Pacific had the highest adaptive capacity, which could potentially counteract the effects of LULC and climate change on nutrient loads. Strong variation in predicted estuarine nutrient loads was observed as a function of climate model projections, while projected LULC changes were more consistently associated with elevated loads. Our findings illustrate the benefits of integrating natural and socio-ecological factors to identify opportunities to develop adaptation plans and policies to mitigate ecological degradation in vitally important estuaries.

Publication Year 2023
Title Vulnerability of estuarine systems in the contiguous United States to water quality change under future climate and land-use
DOI 10.1029/2022EF002884
Authors Lise R. Montefiore, Natalie Nelson, Michelle Staudinger, Adam Terando
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earth's Future
Index ID 70246686
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center