, Volume 184, Issue 7, pp 4279-4288
Date: 28 Jul 2011

Biogeochemistry of the Penobscot River watershed, Maine, USA: nutrient export patterns for carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus

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Abstract

Watershed exports of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, major solutes, and suspended sediments were examined during five water years in the Penobscot River basin, which forms part of the Gulf of Maine watershed. Mean annual exports of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in the Penobscot River were 58 kg C ha−1 year−1, whereas cumulative yearly watershed flux of DOC during the study period ranged from 8.6 to 16.1 × 1010 g C year−1 and averaged 11.7 × 1010 g C year−1. Watershed exports of total soluble N (TN) and total soluble P in the Penobscot River averaged 1.9 and 0.02 kg ha−1 year−1, respectively. Companion studies in two other major Maine rivers indicated that mean annual exports of DOC and TN in the Androscoggin River were 40 kg C ha−1 year−1 and 2.0 kg N ha−1 year−1, whereas exports in the Kennebec River were 43 kg C ha−1 year−1 and 2.2 kg N ha−1 year−1. Extrapolation of results from this investigation and a previous complementary study indicates that estuaries and coastal waters in the Gulf of Maine receive at least 1.0 × 1010 g N year−1 and 2.5 × 1011 g C year−1 in combined runoff from the four largest Maine river basins. Soluble exports of Ca + Mg + Na minus wet deposition inputs of cations in the Penobscot system were approximately 1,840 molc ha−1 year−1, which represents a minimum estimate of cation denudation from the watershed. Based on its low N and P export rates, the Penobscot River watershed represents an example of reference conditions for use as a benchmark in ecological assessments of river water quality restoration or impairment. In addition, the biogeochemical metrics from this study provide an historical baseline for analysis of future trends in nutrient exports from the Penobscot watershed as a function of changing climatic and land use patterns.