Fresh meteoric versus recirculated saline groundwater nutrient inputs into a subtropical estuary

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Sadat-Noori, M, Santos, IR, Tait, DR & Maher, DT 2016, 'Fresh meteoric versus recirculated saline groundwater nutrient inputs into a subtropical estuary', Science of the Total Environment, vol. 566-5667, pp. 1440-1453.

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The role of groundwater in transporting nutrients to coastal aquatic systems has recently received considerable attention. However, the relative importance of fresh versus saline groundwater-derived nutrient inputs to estuaries and how these groundwater pathways may alter surface water N:P ratios remains poorly constrained. We performed detailed time series measurements of nutrients in a tidal estuary (Hat Head, NSW, Australia) and used radium to quantify the contribution of fresh and saline groundwater to total surface water estuarine exports under contrasting hydrological conditions (wet and dry season). Tidally integrated nutrient fluxes showed that the estuary was a source of nutrients to the coastal waters. Dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) export was 7-fold higher than the average global areal flux rate for rivers likely due to the small catchment size, surrounding wetlands and high groundwater inputs. Fresh groundwater discharge was dominant in the wet season accounting for up to 45% of total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) and 48% of total dissolved phosphorus (TDP) estuarine exports. In the dry season, fresh and saline groundwater accounted for 21 and 33% of TDN export, respectively. The combined fresh and saline groundwater fluxes of NO3, PO4, NH4, DON, DOP, TDN and TDP were estimated to account for 66, 58, 55, 31, 21, 53 and 47% of surface water exports, respectively. Groundwater-derived nitrogen inputs to the estuary were responsible for a change in the surface water N:P ratio from typical N-limiting conditions to P-limiting as predicted by previous studies. This shows the importance of both fresh and saline groundwater as a source of nutrients for coastal productivity and nutrient budgets of coastal waters.