Contrasting trends in water quality between adjacent ocean‐ and river‐dominated estuaries: Evidence for marsh porewaters as a source of nutrient enrichment?
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Contrasting trends in water quality between adjacent ocean‐ and river‐dominated estuaries: Evidence for marsh porewaters as a source of nutrient enrichment?

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  • Journal Title:
    Limnology and Oceanography
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    Degradation of estuarine water quality during the Anthropocene has largely resulted from discharges of nutrients leading to eutrophication. Recently, upstream management practices have led to comparatively reduced nutrient input into estuaries. Concurrently, climate cycles and impacts associated with anthropogenic climate warming can affect the long‐term conditions observed within estuaries. Using long‐term monitoring data from adjacent southeastern U.S. estuaries, we show that decadal‐scale trends in nutrient concentrations and phytoplankton standing stock differ between the two connected systems. These contrasting trends appear to result from differences in oceanic influence, the extent of adjacent vegetated marsh, watershed size, and upstream degradation. In the minimally impacted, ocean‐dominated North Inlet estuary, we document increasing ammonium and chlorophyll a (Chl a), while in the adjacent, river‐dominated Winyah Bay, ammonium, and Chl a concentrations are more variable but do not appear to have increased over the same time period. Surprisingly, total nitrogen exhibits the opposite pattern: temporal stability in North Inlet but increasing in Winyah Bay. We hypothesize that sea level rise associated with climate change has driven a complex set of interactions between salt marsh porewaters and tidal pumping, leading to the spillover of nutrients from salt marshes into tidal creeks in North Inlet. In Winyah Bay, this mechanism is less evident as a driver of ammonium concentrations, likely due to the outsized effect of watershed nutrient input and the narrow fringing marsh platform. The degree to which this mechanism operates in other estuaries, which vary in tidal range, the extent of vegetated marsh, watershed size, and degree of anthropogenic degradation warrants further study.
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    Limnology and Oceanography, 68(9), 2040-2058
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    0024-3590;1939-5590;
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    CC BY
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    Library
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