Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 33, Issue 5, pp 1113–1127 | Cite as

Modeled Nitrogen Loading to Narragansett Bay: 1850 to 2015

  • Matthew A. VadeboncoeurEmail author
  • Steven P. Hamburg
  • Donald Pryor


Nutrient loading to estuaries with heavily populated watersheds can have profound ecological consequences. In evaluating policy options for managing nitrogen (N), it is helpful to understand current and historic spatial loading patterns to the system. We modeled N inputs to Narragansett Bay from 1850 to 2000, using data on population, human waste disposal, livestock, fertilizer, and atmospheric deposition. We found that total N loading to the bay increased 250% from 1850 to 2000, and 80% from 1900 to 2000. Loading to the upper bay increased far more than that to the lower bay, and the most important source shifted from non-point animal waste to human waste concentrated at sewage treatment facilities. We also modeled future N loads in 2015 under four management scenarios. Planned improvements in sewage treatment would reduce N loads 9% below business-as-usual, to the 1990 loading rate. Greater reductions, to circa 1900 rates of loading, may be possible.


Nitrogen Agriculture Sewage Land use Fertilizer Atmospheric deposition 



We thank Scott Nixon for helpful conversations on the history of Narragansett Bay, and two anonymous reviewers for comments and questions that lead to major improvements in this manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Online Resource 1 (PDF 220 kb)
12237_2010_9320_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (204 kb)
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12237_2010_9320_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (237 kb)
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12237_2010_9320_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (251 kb)
Online Resource 4 (PDF 251 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew A. Vadeboncoeur
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Steven P. Hamburg
    • 1
    • 3
  • Donald Pryor
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Environmental StudiesBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Complex Systems Research CenterUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Environmental Defense FundNew YorkUSA

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