Title

The contribution of groundwater discharge to nutrient exports from a coastal catchment: post flood seepage increases estuarine N/P ratios

Document Type

Article

Publication details

Santos, IR, de Weys, J, Tait, DR & Eyre, BD 2013, 'The contribution of groundwater discharge to nutrient exports from a coastal catchment: post flood seepage increases estuarine N/P ratios', Estuaries and Coasts, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 56-73.

Published version available from:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12237-012-9561-4

Peer Reviewed

Peer-Reviewed

Abstract

Four months of daily nutrient and radon (a natural groundwater tracer) observations at the outlet of a heavily drained coastal wetland illustrated how episodic floods and diffuse groundwater seepage influence the biogeochemistry of a sub-tropical estuary (Richmond River, New South Wales, Australia). Our observations downstream of the Tuckean Swamp (an acid sulphate soil floodplain) covered a dry stage, a flood triggered by a 213-mm rain event and a post-flood stage when surface water chemistry was dominated by groundwater discharge. Significant correlations were found between radon and ammonium and N/P ratios and between radon and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) during the post-flood stage. While the flood lasted for 14 % of the time of the surface water time series, it accounted for 18 % of NH4, 32 % of NO x , 66 % of DON, 58 % of PO4 and 55 % of dissolved organic phosphorus (DOP) catchment exports. Over the 4-month study period, groundwater fluxes of 35.0, 3.6, 36.3, 0.5 and 0.7 mmol m−2 day−1 for NH4, NO x , DON, PO4 and DOP, respectively, were estimated. The groundwater contribution to the total surface water catchment exports was nearly 100 % for ammonium, and% for the other nutrients. Post-flood groundwater seepage shifted the system from a DON to a dissolved inorganic N-dominated system and doubled N/P ratios in surface waters. We hypothesise that the Richmond River Estuary N/P ratios may reflect a widespread trend of tidal rivers and estuaries becoming more groundwater-dominated and phosphorus-limited as coastal wetlands are drained for agriculture, grazing and development.