, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 481-490

Effect of water residence time on annual export and denitrification of nitrogen in estuaries: A model analysis

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Abstract

A simple model of annual average response of an estuary to mean nitrogen loading rate and freshwater residence time was developed and tested. It uses nitrogen inputs from land, deposition from the atmosphere, and first-order calculations of internal loss rate and net export to perform a steady-state analysis over a yearly cycle. The model calculates the fraction of total nitrogen input from land and the atmosphere that is exported and the fraction that is denitrified or lost to other processes within the estuary. The model was tested against data from the literature for 11 North American and European estuaries having a wide range of physical characteristics, nitrogen loading rates, and geographical and climatic settings. The model shows that the fraction of nitrogen entering an estuary that is exported or denitrified can be predicted from the freshwater residence time. The first-order rate constant for nitrogen loss within an estuary, as a fraction of total nitrogen in the water column, is 0.30 mo−1. Denitrification typically accounts for 69–75% of the total annual net nitrogen removal from the water column by processes within the estuary. The model makes explicit the dependence of nitrogen concentration in the water column on the loading rate of nitrogen, water residence time, estuary volume, and the rate constant for loss within the estuary.