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Comparison of five methods for assessing impacts of nutrient enrichment using estuarine case studies

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Abstract

There are several approaches for assessing nutrient enrichment impacts in marine waters including the OSPAR* Comprehensive Procedure, the TRIX* ranking process, the WFD, ASSETS* and EPA NCA*. They differ in definitions and application, but all use key indicators for evaluating eutrophication status. Data from two estuaries in the United Kingdom (UK) were used to test the hypothesis that these five methods would result in the same outcome. The intent is to provide managers with information for selecting an appropriate method, insight about how each method works, how results from different methods compare and a basis for improvement of methods. Results from all approaches indicate that both estuaries required management intervention, but detailed results differed. Methods using more than one biological indicator show that secondary biological impacts were minimal, with the exception of moderate macroalgal problems in the Medway. Comparison of final results was difficult due to differences in: timeframes of data analysis (seasonal versus annual), characteristics included in indicator metrics (concentration, spatial coverage, frequency of occurrence), and methods for combining indicators to determine eutrophication status. This comparison suggests that use of annual data, inclusion frequency of occurrence, spatial coverage and, secondary biological indicators in the index, and a multi-category rating scale results in a more representative assessment.

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Abbreviations

OSPAR:

Oslo Paris Convention for the Protection of the Northeast Atlantic

TRIX:

Trophic Index

ASSETS:

Assessment of Estuarine Trophic Status

EPA NCA:

Environmental Protection Agency National Coastal Assessment

WFA:

Water Framework Directive

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank their research and field teams who have worked with them on the various eutrophication assessments. We particularly thank Dr. Uwe Brockmann and Mr. Uli Claussen of the German UBA for their help with understanding the OSPAR COMPP method. Thank you to the reviewers who provided comments which greatly improved the content of this manuscript. We would also like to thank the funding bodies such as the Environment Agency (UK), and (US) for their continued support in this work All views expressed in this manuscript are solely those of the authors.

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Correspondence to Michelle Devlin.

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Devlin, M., Bricker, S. & Painting, S. Comparison of five methods for assessing impacts of nutrient enrichment using estuarine case studies. Biogeochemistry 106, 177–205 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-011-9588-9

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