Hydroclimatic variability drives submarine groundwater discharge and nutrient fluxes in an anthropogenically disturbed, semi-arid estuary
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Hydroclimatic variability drives submarine groundwater discharge and nutrient fluxes in an anthropogenically disturbed, semi-arid estuary

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  • Journal Title:
    Science of The Total Environment
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    Nutrient budgets in semi-arid estuaries, with ephemeral freshwater inflows and limited nutrient sources, are likely incomplete if contributions from submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) are not included. Here, the relative importance of saline/recirculated SGD-derived nutrient fluxes spatiotemporal variability to the overall nutrient budget is quantified for Nueces Bay, Texas, U.S.A., across hydroclimatic conditions ranging from drought to normal, to flood. On average, 67% of the variance in water quality is due to temporal differences while 16% is explained by spatial differences. Principal component analysis (PCA) reveals three principal components: freshwater inflow (PC1 28.8%), saline/recirculated SGD and recycled nitrogen (PC2 15.6%), and total SGD and “new” nitrogen (PC3 11.2%). Total SGD porewater fluxes ranged from 29.9–690.3 mmol∙m−2d−1 for ammonium, 0.21–18.7 mmol∙m−2d−1 for nitrite+nitrate, 3.1–51.3 mmol∙m−2d−1 for phosphate, 57.1–719.7 mmol∙m−2d−1 for silicate, and 95.9–36,838.5 mmol∙m−2d−1 for dissolved organic carbon. Total and saline/recirculated SGD fluxes were on average 150–26,000 and 5.8–466 times, respectively, greater than surface runoff fluxes across all seasons. Nitrogen (N) enrichment in porewater occurs near the agricultural fields because of soil N flushing and percolation to groundwater, which facilitates N-rich groundwater fluxes. There were substantial “new” N inputs from terrestrial groundwater following precipitation while saline/recirculated SGD of recycled N accounts for only <4% of total SGD inputs. The “new” N inputs occur in the river and river mouth during flooding, and near the north shore where topography and hydraulic gradients are steeper during drought. Thus, while significant inputs of N may be associated with atmospheric deposition, or remineralization in the porewater, groundwater is the highest contributor to the nutrient budget in Nueces Bay. This result implies that nutrient management strategies should focus on land-use practices to reduce N contamination of shallow groundwater and subsequent contamination of estuaries.
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    Science of The Total Environment, 755, 142574
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