Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 42, Issue 8, pp 2096–2113 | Cite as

Recent Changes in Nitrogen Sources and Load Components to Estuaries of the Contiguous United States

  • Naomi E. DetenbeckEmail author
  • Mingde You
  • Daniel Torre


Regional Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed models were used to update 2002 delivered nitrogen (N) loads to estuaries of the contiguous US for 2011, supplemented by direct estuarine atmospheric deposition from the Community Multiscale Air Quality Model. Median 2011 watershed N yields were greatest for the Puget Trough, Virginian, and Oregon–Washington–Vancouver Coast marine ecoregions (MEs; 13.7, 11.0, and 9.9 kg N/ha watershed/year, respectively); intermediate for the Floridian, Southern California Bight, and Northern California MEs (4.4–6.3 kg N/ha watershed/year); and lowest for the Northern Gulf of Mexico, Carolinian, and Gulf of Maine MEs (2.4–3.2 kg N/ha watershed/year). Dominant sources varied across marine ecoregions, with direct atmospheric deposition as the dominant source only in the far northern Gulf of Maine ME. Delivered N loads from atmospheric deposition have significantly decreased (p < 0.05) for most estuaries on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for 2002–2012. Estimated point source delivered N loads for 2002–2012 increased for most estuaries with upstream treatment plants, with estimated loads to only seven estuaries decreasing by more than 50%. Urban runoff increased for most estuaries in the Puget Trough and Carolinian MEs and either increased or had no significant trend for the remaining marine ecoregions. The magnitude of change in total N delivered loads is uncertain due to incomplete monitoring for most minor dischargers. In areas with increased population growth and decreases in agricultural land, decreasing agricultural fertilizer inputs have been insufficient to offset increases in urban runoff.


Nitrogen loading Estuaries United States SPARROW models 



This is contribution number ORD-027336 of the Atlantic Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the US EPA. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or recommendation for use. The authors thank Drs. Brenda Rashleigh, Daniel Campbell, and Galen Kaufman for providing preliminary technical reviews of this manuscript as well as the two anonymous reviewers of the final publication.


Support for this work (funding for ORISE participants through an interagency agreement with the Department of Energy - Oak Ridge Associated Universities) was provided by the USEPA through the Integrated Nitrogen Project under US EPA Safe and Healthy Communities research program. The information in this document has been funded wholly by the US EPA.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Atlantic Ecology DivisionU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyNarragansettUSA
  2. 2.China Guangfa BankGuangzhouChina
  3. 3.RPS – Ocean ScienceSouth KingstownUSA

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