, Volume 76, Issue 3, pp 567–593 | Cite as

Export of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Suspended Solids from a Southern New England Watershed to Little Narragansett Bay

  • Robinson W. Fulweiler
  • Scott W. Nixon


The Pawcatuck River watershed (764 km2) is a mainly forested drainage basin with a low population density (80 people km−2) that discharges to a shallow estuary, Little Narragansett Bay (RI and CT, USA). In order to quantify the nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) flux to the estuary, we measured all forms of nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as suspended solids at the mouth of the river above tidal influence, on more than 80 occasions over an annual cycle. The annual export of total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total suspended solids amounted to 16.0×106 mol y−1, 0.97×106 mol y−1, and 1.4×106 kg y−1, respectively. Nitrogen export was equally divided between dissolved inorganic (83% NO3 ) and organic forms, with particulate nitrogen comprising 17% of the total flux. Phosphorus export was dominated by particulate forms (67%), with dissolved inorganic phosphate contributing 30% and dissolved organic phosphorus contributing 8% of the annual flux. Preliminary nutrient budgets for the Pawcatuck watershed suggest that only about 10% of the nitrogen and phosphorus inputs are exported from the system. Strong regressions between water discharge and TN enabled us to extrapolate the data collected during the relatively dry study period to a long term average discharge year. Under normal river discharge conditions, the N flux would be approximately 26.0×106 mol y−1 or about 20% of the nitrogen inputs to the watershed. This value is very close to the N flux predicted by a regression developed by others from a wide range of larger watersheds. The relatively large size of the Pawcatuck watershed relative to the estuary (9.6 km2), makes Little Narragansett Bay one of the most intensively nitrogen loaded estuaries on the Atlantic coast in spite of the dominant forest cover of the watershed.


Little Narragansett Bay Nitrogen Pawcatuck river Phosphorus River export River fluxes TSS Watershed nutrients 


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© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of OceanographyUniversity of Rhode IslandNarragansettUSA

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