Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 710-724

First online:

Dissolved nutrient fluxes through a sandy estuarine beachface (Cape Henlopen, Delaware, U.S.A.): Contributions from fresh groundwater discharge, seawater recycling, and diagenesis

  • Rebecca L. HaysAffiliated withCollege of Marine and Earth Studies, University of Delaware Email author 
  • , William J. UllmanAffiliated withCollege of Marine and Earth Studies, University of Delaware

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The sandy beachface at Cape Henlopen, Delaware, receives dissolved nutrient inputs from fresh upland groundwater and estuarine seawater and exports nutrients through intertidal and submarine groundwater discharge. The discharge of brackish beachface waters indicates that there must be additional diagenetic nutrient sources and sinks within the porous beachface aquifer. At some times of the year, diagenetic processes within the beachface remove nitrate from waters draining the beachface consistent with the stoichiometry of either denitrification or dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium. Up to 50–100% of the nitrate load from the upland groundwaters is apparently reduced to N2O/N2 gas or ammonium during these periods. At other times, ammonium and nitrate are added to beachface waters consistent with the stoichiometry of organic matter remineralization and nitrification. Dissolved reactive phosphorus and silica are similarly consumed and produced by beachface processes at different times of the year, presumably by adsorption or desorption. Infiltration of reactive estuarine particles may be an additional source of nutrients and carbon that supports the diagenetic activity in the beachface aquifer. These observations suggest that sandy beachfaces are biogeochemically reactive systems that can serve as sources, sinks, and temporary reservoirs of nutrients to support the primary and secondary production of the adjacent intertidal zone.